I read today that the math teacher, Jaime Escalante, died at 79. He became famous when a 1988 movie, Stand and Deliver, depicted the teacher, a Bolivian immigrant, as he transformed students in an inner-city Los Angeles high school into math aces. At one point, the school had more students studying advanced calculus than all but three other state schools in the US.
The Other Johnny
Many of you remember the movie "Stand and Deliver," the story of Jaime Escalante, an immigrant from Bolivia who taught at Garfield High School in inner-city Los Angeles. He accomplished remarkable results with students known to be especially difficult to teach.
One story not depicted in the movie was the one about "the other Johnny." Escalante had two students named Johnny in his class. One was a straight A+ student; the other was an F+ student. The A+ student was easy to get along with, cooperated with teachers, worked hard, and was popular with his peers. The F+ Johnny was sullen, angry, uncooperative, disruptive, and in general was not popular with anyone.
One evening at a PTA meeting, an excited mother approached Escalante and asked, "How is my Johnny doing?" Escalante figured that the F+ Johnny's mother would not be asking such a question, so he described in glowing terms the A+ Johnny, saying he was a wonderful student, popular with his class, cooperative and a hard worker, and would undoubtedly go far in life. The next morning, Johnny―the F+ one―approached Escalante and said, "I really appreciate what you said to my mother about me, and I just want you to know that I'm going to work real hard to make what you said the truth." By the end of that grade period, he was a C- student, and by the end of the school year, he was on the honor roll.
If we treat others as if they were "the other Johnny," chances are dramatically better that they will, in fact, improve their performance. Someone rightly said that more people have been encouraged to succeed than have been nagged to succeed. This example makes us wonder what would happen to all the "other Johnnies" of the world if someone said something really nice about them.