There are some teachers that play such a central role in your life that you remember them 20, 30, even 40 years later. When you look back at the trajectory of your life, you can imagine everything turning out completely different, but for that person’s influence. It is one of the reasons why I choose a teacher.
When I was in Elementary school at El Rincon here in Culver City, I was a perennial middle of the road student. On a three-point report card assessment system, I generally received the middle score. When the teacher put us into reading or math groups, I was always in the middle. I could imagine a life for myself where I got an average education, obtained an average job and lived an average life. That was, potentially, the trajectory of my life at age 10.
But 20 years ago this year, I entered Culver City Middle School with a new challenge ahead of me. I went to my sixth grade classes, but found my math class to be way too easy. Upon conversations with my parents and counselor, I was moved into a pre-algebra class, surrounded primarily by students a year older than I was. Having never been in an advanced grouping before, having never really had that kind of a challenge, it would have been understandable for me to falter. But I didn’t. It would have been understandable for me to retreat back to the comfort of the middle. But I didn’t. It would have been understandable for me to be unhappy for being removed from my friends and placed in a class of people I did not know. But I didn’t.
My pre-algebra class, that first experience with academic advancement, was taught by Dave Sanchez. And while all of those things could have happened, they never would have happened under Dave’s watch. When I felt defeated, attempting to address material that was a year ahead of my learning, Dave stayed with me after school answering each and every one of my questions until I felt comfortable. When I asked a question during class that showed my lack of knowledge, Dave answered it, insisting that every question was valid. And if there was ever any bullying against those of us in 6th grade, Dave addressed it right away. We were a community of learners and I was brought in as an equal member.
Dave Sanchez passed away last Wednesday after more than two decades of service to the students of CCUSD as a math teacher, a coach, an advocate, a mentor, and a friend. As I have been reading the comments made by alumni of Dave’s classes and their parents, I am struck by how many of their stories mirror the one I just told you. Dave had so much of an influence on his students that everyone was able to point specifically to something done in his class that may have changed the trajectory of their lives. For me, he was able to convince me through the work that I did in his class that I belonged in advanced classes, that my academic abilities were wasted if I stuck myself squarely in the middle of the group. Because of his attitude and approach I was able to be successful in that class and those that followed. Who knows what might have come had that first experience been negative.
I am sorry for those future generations of Culver City students who will not have access to this incredible teacher, but am heartened that so many of us have tried to live our lives modeling Dave Sanchez’s moral character. Our community is so much better for his efforts.
Karlo Silbiger is a Culver City Unified School District board member.