In high school, Raul Bravo asked himself whether it was worth getting a diploma. He saw other ways of making money to buy the best Nikes.
"At that age, I've seen many of my friends making fast money drug dealing," he says.
Now 21, Bravo is an auto mechanic in Chicago. He never thought about a career working on cars, until he met automotive teacher Clairene Terry.
Terry says counselors warned her about Bravo — he was a failing student who wasn't going to class.
"And these were my words: 'I'll take a shot at it,' " she tells Bravo at a StoryCorps booth in Chicago. "And the first 10 weeks, you just sat back and just watched."
She gave him an ultimatum: "You've either got to go do what you said you were gonna do, or you're off my roster."
Bravo made his decision, and his grades started going up. He started going to class every day.
"Everything seemed like this is where I belong. I felt more confident that if I could do better in this class, let me try in my other classes," he says. "And I felt like a walking star in the hallway. ... You're one of Terry's students and you get respect."
Terry says she went into teaching to help students like Bravo, "who were standing around, trying to make up their mind."
Bravo has come a long way since his first class, when he didn't even know how to do an oil change. He's now working full time and getting his associate degree in automotive technology.
"I got a lot of inspiration from you, and right now I'm taking care of my sister," he says. "She's a teenager. It's a really tough time for her right now, so I'm trying to help her make the right decisions. If I could just see that she does well, that would just be a tremendous feeling."
Terry says she's watched Bravo turn into "a fine, very respectable young man," something Bravo didn't think was going to happen.
Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Anita Rao and Katie Simon.
SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:
Now, for another conversation from StoryCorps' National Teachers Imitative.
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STAMBERG: This school year we're sharing stories from and about teachers and their students. Twenty-one-year-old Raul Bravo is an auto mechanic in Chicago. Back when he was in high school, he never thought about a career working on cars until he met automotive teacher Clairene Terry. At StoryCorps, Raul told Clairene what was going through his mind when they first met.
RAUL BRAVO: At that age, I've seen many of my friends making fast money drug dealing or wanted to rock the best Nikes, you know. And I was asking myself: is it really worth it, getting a diploma? Is it really worth four years?
CLAIRENE TERRY: When I first met you, the counselor told me your history - F student, is not coming to school. These were my words: I'll take a shot at him. And the first 10 weeks, you just sat back and you just watched. And I came up to you and I told you, you have a decision you have to make; you either do what you say were going to do, or you just get off my roster. And you made up your mind. Your grades started to swing up. Your attendance started being consistent. You were there every day.
BRAVO: Yeah. Everything seemed this is where I belong. I felt like a walking star in the hallway. Everybody will notice you, you know. You're one of Terry's students, and you get respect. I felt more confident that if I can do better in this class, let me try in my other classes.
TERRY: I'm glad that you were willing to stick it out. 'Cause I got into teaching with the intent of helping students a lot like yourself who were standing around trying to make up their mind.
BRAVO: When I first walked into your class, I didn't even know how to do an oil change. Did not have a clue.
TERRY: Come a long way since then.
BRAVO: Come a long way. I got a lot of inspiration from you when - right now, I'm taking care of my sister. She's a teenager, so it's a really tough time for her right now. So, I'm trying to help her make the right decisions. If I could just see that she does well, that would just be - tremendous feeling.
TERRY: Yeah, it is. I watched you grow up into a fine, very respectful young man.
BRAVO: I didn't think it could be done. I was just, you know, you're amazing, Ms. Terry.
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STAMBERG: That's Clairene Terry and Raul Bravo at StoryCorps in Chicago. Raul is now working full-time and getting his associate's degree in automotive technology. More about StoryCorps' National Teachers Initiative at NPR.org.
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STAMBERG: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.