Teacher Inspires a New Beginning for Student

Published: May 31, 2007 | 6314th good news item since 2003

As one man’s career is ending, another man’s is beginning and they couldn’t be more proud of each other.

The man just beginning is Irving Figueroa, a recent Bowman High School graduate, who read a piece of his work to a crowd full of poetry lovers, teachers and friends at College of the Canyons last week.

His favorite teacher from Bowman – Richard Weekley, a highly acclaimed published poet and well-respected literary figure in his own right – came to watch, even though it was his wedding anniversary.

Figueroa was grateful and the feeling was compounded when Figueroa’s own father, typically a quiet and detached man, showed up to listen to his son’s work – something he had not done before.

On stage was a boy who had less than a year before been ditching class so much that he was kicked out of Hart High School and considered a failure.

Back then, a Hart High administrator looked at his transcript and tossed it aside “as if it was foul,” Figueroa said.

However, these days, he is winning awards for his moving poetry and had his choice of universities to attend. He attends every class and he dreams of being not just a college student, but instead “an exceptional one,” he said.

“I never thought I’d go to a community college,” Figueroa said. “Now I have all of these opportunities.”

He hopes to become a teacher, just like Weekley who had inspired him to express his pain, joy and confusion in eloquent words.

“One day, if we’re speaking ideally, I’d like to teach at Hart. I want to become so qualified it would be a shame to turn me down,” he said.

It would be returning full circle – going back to the school he was forced to leave, returning as an accomplished instructor.

And as Figueroa’s future is just unfolding, his inspirational teacher is retiring.

Weekley, a favorite teacher at Bowman High School who has taught creative writing for 14 years, is retiring next week after nearly 40 years of teaching in the William S. Hart Union High School District.

In that time, he’d seen students transform themselves from shy, troubled students to people who beam at how well they articulated their feelings.

“That’s my excitement, to see them open that door,” Weekley said. “I don’t put anything inside of them. It’s already there.”

He said there is a bit of a flame in each student and he gives them the space to let that flicker turn into “an explosion of joy” – something he takes no credit for.

At a recent special recognition award ceremony, Weekley told the audience that “Irving has way of managing and twisting the form until it shines, vibrates and insists that the reader give it another look.”

For example, in a poem about a peach tree, Figueroa described how his father trimmed back a messy tree to the point that it could never produce fruit again.

It was a metaphor for punishment, sadness and abortion all at the same time.

Weekley had read Figueroa’s poems out loud, with proud, dramatic impact. And there are students across the campus who have felt the same passion from their teacher.

At the school’s widely celebrated Day of the Poet, student Cathy Prieto asked to speak at the very end of the ceremony.

“Not many teachers have made an impact on me the way you have. Thanks to you I now see everything in a different perspective, I think differently, I write so much better,” Prieto said, among a litany of other gracious remarks.

Weekley later wrote that, “If just half of what Cathy spoke of happened I’d be more than happy.”

Published in Teachers
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