Teaching resilience through science
Military veteran Sal Escobales considers teaching to be one of the most meaningful experiences of his life
Author: Sal Escobales
My name is Sal Escobales, and I am a science teacher at New Britain High School (NBHS) in the Consolidated School District of New Britain in Connecticut. During my 18-year career, I have taught biology to high schoolers and college students.
As a lifelong resident of New Britain, I attended Vance School and Slade Middle School before attending NBHS.
I am proud to say that I am a graduate of NBHS (class of '89), and I was the first in my family to graduate from college.
Upon graduation from high school, I served in the US Army/Army Reserve Military Police Corp for seven years, and I am a veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
Pursuing teaching as a career
As a first-generation college student, I faced some adversity, but I was blessed to have caring mentors that helped me along the way. I now hold a master’s degree in Biology from Central Connecticut State University, and a master’s degree in Educational Technology from the University of Saint Joseph.
Currently, I am completing a six-year degree in Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University. I am also serving my second term as the Union President for the New Britain Federation of Teachers, Local 871. This year, I am serving as a Teacher Leader in Residence with the Connecticut State Department of Education.
Mentoring students through science
As a young student, I was able to develop a lifelong friendship with a schoolmate whose mother was a Special Education teacher. Her name is Annie Parker. She remains my greatest mentor to this day, and I credit her for much of my early success in teaching—so much so that I refer to her as “Ma."
She always stressed the importance of staying the course with regards to taking care of my students and not becoming jaded. As a young teacher, I was very idealistic and, at times, my idealism rubbed some of my colleagues the wrong way. Annie always stressed the importance of speaking your mind in a productive way. Annie always made sure that I did not let anyone stifle my passion to serve students.
I consider teaching the youth to be a privilege. I had many spectacular teachers who helped mold me into the person I am today.
Teaching in the inner city has always come with its set of challenges, but I have always loved it. I have enjoyed the tough conversations I’ve had with my students. As the years have gone by, I have become much more of a father figure, in addition to a teacher, for many of my students.
In over 20 years of teaching, I have been blessed to have been there for many of my students when they needed me most. I have helped students navigate through difficult issues involving family, other students and their own self-esteem, which has also been a great experience.
In the end, I am most proud to have realized early on that my work with students has always been more than just teaching them science: It has been about teaching them to be resilient. Besides the raising of my own daughters, I feel that teaching has continued to be the most meaningful work that I have done in my life.
Teaching students how to overcome obstacles
As I reflect back on my career thus far, I credit my success to many of the skills and experiences I gained while serving in the Army.
I believe that serving your country in the Armed Forces is one of the highest honors a person can achieve. In addition, by serving in the military, a person learns a great deal about themselves. It was in the Army that I learned fortitude, resiliency and perseverance.
An example of how these three attributes became a learning lesson was with regards to physical fitness training (PT). While I did wrestle in high school and was in pretty good shape, I was never the best runner. I would often struggle to complete a mile run in under 7½ minutes. One of the goals I set for myself while I was in the Army was to score high on the PT test. I could always achieve a top score in push-ups and sit ups, but a high score on the run remained elusive.
My Drill Sergeant convinced me to join the faster running group that did extra training in the evening. It was made up of soldiers who had been on school track teams and marathon teams. When I first started with them, I often fell behind on the runs, but after about a few months of struggle and setbacks, I finally caught my stride and was ultimately able to achieve a 6 minute, 53 second mile.
What I learned from that experience in the Army is that you never stop pushing until the mission is done, no matter the difficulties. I made it my mission to improve myself and was willing to work through the difficulties to achieve my goal.
I feel the same way about educating young people. In New Britain, we educators face a lot of challenges. A lot of our students arrive to school with many needs, as well as trauma. Despite these difficulties, I have always continued to push students to defy their circumstances and to discipline themselves to win via small victories.
In my classes, we often talk about the additive effect of overcoming obstacles using self-regulation, self-discipline and perseverance. I make it a point when talking to my students (and my colleagues) that these skills, while attainable elsewhere, are naturally selected for when serving in the military. In the end, the skills I developed during my time in the military continue to serve me well to this very day.
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