When I was at the University of Delaware, I had a really rough semester. Looking back, I think I was trying to find my identity. I dropped out of one class. Failed another. I lost a merit scholarship that I never even knew I had.
I came home for winter break and my mom pulled me to the back of the house for some privacy. “Listen,” she said, “If you’re not going to take this seriously, you’ve gotta come home. Money is hard to come by.”
The financial impact was obvious—the fridge was empty.
I will never forget that day. My mom and me were in her bedroom, and I had made her cry. I was embarrassed by it. I am still embarrassed by it.
I returned to school and went to the financial aid office. I tried to plead my case. I explained how important the merit scholarship was to me. They didn’t budge. I called my mom. She came down and cried in their office—I’m even more embarrassed now—and still they wouldn’t do anything. I just needed one chance. That’s all. So I called Mr. Harris. He was my KIPP counselor.
“Mr. Harris,” I remember saying, “I don’t know what my options are right now.”
Within the week, Mr. Harris was at my school. One meeting later, I had my financial aid back. Before Mr. Harris left, he looked me in the eye and said, “Jay, don’t mess this up.” I didn’t. I graduated on the dean’s list.
I teach at KIPP now. I’m proud to be a male kindergarten teacher who looks and talks like his students. Our students need that.
They crave it. Too often, kids see males as coaches and deans; it just reinforces the “Dad is there for discipline” stereotype.
I want my kids to know, “Yeah, Mr. Guzman is a man who will talk to you about discipline. But he’s also going to talk to you about whether you can read this book, about how you can read this book better, and about this math problem.” I think that’s important. I’m a man, I’m from where my students are from, and I’m passionate about academic achievement.