The U.S. Postal Service last month unveiled a stamp honoring Bolivian native and former U.S. high school math teacher Jaime Escalante.
Escalante taught at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, Calif., from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s, and became the school’s most famous teacher—indeed, one of the most famous teachers in the country.
Both charismatic and controversial, Escalante taught calculus to underachieving Latino students and sought to encourage them to overcome adversity—inspiring the classic teaching film “Stand and Deliver” in 1988.
Escalante believed that educators’ utmost priority should be giving students the best education possible, he told the Los Angeles Times on his retirement in 1991. To that end, he would regularly coach his students in math during lunch and after-school hours and work with parents and community support groups to ensure that problems outside the classroom were addressed. He also developed a math-enrichment program covering a range of math subjects and grades for over 400 students.
His determination and perseverance resulted in 18 of his students passing the AP exam in 1982, at the time when only 2 percent of graduating high school seniors attempted the exam, according to The Washington Post.
Fourteen of his students were accused of cheating on the exam, but 12 retook it and passed again—an episode that inspired the film.
Even so, Escalante remained a controversial figure in education. Some colleagues took umbrage at this uncompromising style and described him as overly critical of other instructors’ efforts.
Escalante’s success became evident in the rise in number of Garfield students taking AP exams in math and other subjects. In 1992, about 570 Garfield students took AP exams in 14 different subject areas, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“With his colleagues at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, he proved that supposedly ‘unteachable’ students could master even the most difficult subject,” the USPS said in announcing the new stamp.
After his retirement, Escalante received several honorary doctorates. In addition, in 2014, the Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education, given annually to an exemplary teacher or administrator, was named in his honor.
Escalante died of cancer in 2010.
Image from USPS National Release.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.