José G. Carrasco is a cool teacher. He is the one that all the students in the school look up to. José is friendly with his students, but they respect him because he exudes authority. He wants to inspire disadvantaged youth to transform their lives by providing them with a good education.
Are you teaching in Miami at the same school we last spoke to you about?
Yes, I am. On top of that, I teach adults ESOL three nights a week. This is a program where they learn trades and prepare for citizen tests. Those extra 10 hours of work are one way of keeping me out of trouble, I suppose. I always do private lessons here and there. This is to help kids who have a problem with math and science.
Following a divorce, you changed jobs to be closer to your two daughters. Do you still live near them?
My eldest daughter is no longer living in Miami. She is actually residing in my old Brooklyn apartment. Keeping her company there is a creature that used to be a pet of mine, Beyoncé the snake. Her younger sister, who just turned 22, still lives close by. She is in her final year of nursing school.
What do Florida schools need to do to narrow the gap with those in New York?
They need to be stricter. Florida schools need to fail their students who are not progressing. By the time of fifth grade, there should be progression. If there isn’t, it’s because they didn’t fully understand what was covered in the fourth grade. Sometimes, there are fifth graders making third-grade mistakes and that shouldn’t be happening. In third grade, you need to show you can add and subtract. If you can’t, you need to repeat the year until you can. Without this noteable progression, then students aren’t prepared for middle school. This is the biggest concern I have about teaching in Miami.
What advice would you give to prospective teachers?
Follow your heart. Learn your craft. You will find happiness. With these kids, from a low economic stratum, you have to be a teacher, a parent, and a psychologist. You have to do a lot of things for them to support their growth. It’s tough, but it’s a calling. Make sure you have empathy and put yourself in the same place as the kid. Be a facilitator. Believe in inclusion. Set the standard high. I’m the head guy in my school, and I tell my students that the limit is in their heads. They’ve got the same physiogenic tools as everybody else. They got 3s and 4s and kept their levels. We float together or sink together. It’s a family. I even go watch their games.
How do you get your students to memorize mathematical concepts?
You have to be inventive. What’s three times three? Use your fingers to show the students. Not everybody has the same launchpad. Some of them are subterranean. Some you can’t slow down. Don’t dumb it down. Make the classroom a level playing field.
I think when it comes to learning, you have to rationalize your teaching methods. I meet the requirements and want to make sure my kids use rationale. Why do you do this? You have to ask them a lot of questions. Teachers need to be inquisitive with their students.
What do you like to do away from school?
Travel. I went to Angola, a country in central Africa. While there, I was hanging out with my former students. They showed me around, and I even made it in the newspaper. They speak Portuguese which was handy for a Brazilian like me. I was chilling and may have caused some damage. I had a good time.
Previously, I kept pets, such as guinea pigs and snakes. My last guinea pig, Jiyma, I gave to one of my students. Her grandmother had cancer. She lived with her grandma, and looking after the guinea pig became something they did together.
How painful was it for you to watch this year’s Copa América final? (Argentina beat José’s Brazil 1-0 in Rio’s Maracaña stadium)?
You can’t win them all. Kudos to Messi, though. It’s about time he won something on the international stage. We celebrated with gold medals at the Olympics. Dani Alves was immense in Tokyo.
It has been a while since we caught up with José. It was so reassuring to hear his warm, playful voice again. We could sense the same old, irrepressible José on the end of the phone. You can’t keep a good man down. He’s a credit to the teaching profession. We’re excited to see how teaching in Miami has gone for him.