Fifteen years ago, Carlos Vega was a fifth grade student at KIPP Academy learning US history in Mr. Martinez’s class in 2002.
Today, over a decade later, their student-teacher relationship continues and its growth extends.
Having an older sister who teaches at KIPP Academy, Carlos always caught up with Arturo when he was home from college.
After graduating from the University of Texas in 2014 with a degree in petroleum engineering, Carlos shares, “I was working out in the field for a year in Midland, Texas. It was right in the middle of nowhere.”
ADVERSITY AND NEW BEGINNINGS
One year after being hired in Midland, Carlos was laid off in the oil bust.
“I was looking for a job for a year,” Carlos said. “And in the meantime helping my sister (Ms. Lorena Vega) out with grading or anything she needed.”
This past February, he began tutoring some of Arturo’s sixth grade students.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t hearing back from engineering companies,” Carlos said. “I decided to apply for Teach For America and for the Relay Graduate School of Education/KIPP Graduate Teaching Fellowship.”
Being accepted into both programs, Carlos chose Relay for two reasons. First, he was guaranteed a place at a KIPP school. Second, he liked how the first year was set up for Relay students.
“The first year they pair you up with a resident advisor, which is the teacher you’re working under,” Carlos said.
The Graduate Teaching Fellowship centers around providing unique opportunities for aspiring teachers to learn alongside mentor teachers, while earning a master’s degree in teaching and a Texas teaching certificate. The program is a paid, two-year fellowship.
Fittingly, Carlos would be placed at his old middle school and his resident advisor would be Arturo Martinez. When they learned of the news, both found it somewhat comical.
“I had just gone on the Utah sixth grade class trip in May as an alumni volunteer,” Carlos said. “Martinez emailed me after he heard and said, ‘Didn’t we just spend two weeks on a bus with kids, driving for two days?’ It was funny.”
Arturo acknowledged that he agreed to serve as a resident advisor because of who he would be instructing.
“Not too many people come back and visit,” Arturo said. “Sometimes you wonder, I wonder what happened to this kid? This is a little bit more than expected. I never in a gazillion years would expect to have a former student come in and allow me to train them to be a teacher.”
OPEN TO LEARNING
While plenty of time had passed since they both were inside the same classroom, Carlos says that his relationship with Arturo hasn’t changed much today. He still sees the same effective teacher making a positive difference in student lives.
“Style-wise, the way he is, he brings humor into his class, into his teaching,” Carlos said. “Of course, it’s going to be hard to live up to that, especially working under him. Some people said ‘don’t try to copy his style because his is unique.’ It can’t be copied.”
The significant difference for Carlos now compared to 15 years ago is that he’s learning from Arturo in a new capacity. So far, he’s been responsible for grading papers and leading morning work sessions. Meanwhile more tasks are on the horizon.
“Eventually,” Carlos said, “I’ll be doing the lesson plans with him, and at the end of the year, teaching the class.”
Despite only being two months into the school year, Arturo has been impressed by how quickly the students have accepted Carlos.
“I don’t know why it’s happened, but he’s got a couple of kids who have become attached to him,” Arturo said. “They don’t buddy up with me. For some reason, they think he’s lifted up his wing and they’ve gone under it.”
Arturo, the resident advisor, also noted that Carlos is beginning to grasp how teachers make decisions.
“He’s figured out how to keep that line of respect between him and the children even though I’m sure some of the kids notice that I’m helping him,” Arturo said. “He’s not an aide, but he’s a second teacher in here. They still treat him with 100% respect, and he didn’t do it like I’ve seen other teachers do it – by force. It sort of comes naturally to him.”
Had Carlos been placed at another school, he likely would have experienced a long adjustment period.
He’s enjoyed being able to return to his middle school and experience everything from the other side.
And although teaching wasn’t his focus from the beginning, Carlos is happy with the path his career has taken.
“Arturo’s encouraged me along the way,” Carlos said. “He’s going to be there for me, just like he was 15 years ago. I’m thankful for the opportunity to come back and be able to give back to the community that has given so much to myself and my family.”