Acquillahs Muteti Mutie (Muteti) has been teaching math and Advanced Placement Statistics at Ganesha High School in Pomona, California, since 2000. Mr. Muteti received his BA from the University of Nairobi in Kenya and his Masters Degree and teaching credential from National University.
Muteti grew up an only child in a poor, distant village in Kenya. His family had little food to eat and, as a youth, he had no shoes and very few changes of clothes. His mother had no education, yet she stressed the value and importance of education to her son. She made sure he attended school every day, even though he had to walk or run five miles to school each way. Often going hungry herself, his mother made certain he had enough food for his unch every day. Muteti learned early that the only way to change his and his family’s life would be by getting a good education.
Fortunately, Muteti received a scholarship to attend a Kenyan high school and was finally able to buy his first pair of shoes in the ninth grade, which he wore for most of the four years he attended high school. Because of his exceptional academic talent, he earned a scholarship to the University of Nairobi, where he graduated with a degree in Mathematics.
Following his graduation from College, Muteti took a job working for a Kenyan technology company. However, influenced by his high school math teacher, he felt a driving desire to teach and to give back to students who lived lives similar to his, and to help make their lives better. His life experience taught him, “everyone can make a difference, no matter where they begin their journey.”
In 1999, Muteti applied for a US Visa, eventually moving from Kenya to Pomona, CA. where he attended Keller Graduate School to study technology. While at Keller Graduate School, he met a young man, studying to become a teacher, who explained the California educational system and some of the requirements for becoming a teacher. He explained to Muteti the first step he needed to take was to take the CBEST test, which was required for a credential in the State of California.
Before taking any formal Education Courses for his California teaching credential, Mr. Muteti took and passed the CBST, allowing him to qualify for an emergency teaching credential. He applied, was interviewed and hired by the Pomona Unified School District to teach at Ganesha High School, in Pomona, California in the fall of 2000.
Mr. Muteti was quick to realize that, even in America, the students he was teaching were living a life similar to the one he lived in his poor Kenyan village. He said, “Over 87% of the parents of my students at Ganesha High School have little or no education, which means my students have no one at home to rely upon for help understanding their schoolwork or to help them do their homework. The subjects I teach are such that many of their parents never knew existed. In addition, their parents have to work 2-3 jobs just to put food on their tables and, more often than not, are never home when their students come home or when they get up to go to school. These are hard-working people trying to do the best for their families. As long as their children are in my classes, I intend to see their children are well educated and have a chance for a better future.
“I see myself in these kids. I see a sense of hopelessness, but also I see a willingness to learn, if only they know how to do it. I start by having my classroom open in the mornings, at lunch and afterschool, so students have a place to come to study and get help in their subjects or to use a computer. Most have no place that is quiet to study nor do they have money to buy supplies or to apply to colleges or pay for tutoring. Therefore, all students are welcome, not just students in my classes.
“I really believe I can make a difference in their lives. I refuse to listen to any form of negativity or ‘stereotyping’ of students and their parents. My belief is, if you keep hearing it, whether you are a student or a teacher, there is a tendency to begin to believe it. To the contrary, I try to teach students they should never accept anyone telling them they cannot do something. I am constantly telling them to speak to themselves about how they will be successful. If they hear it enough and experience concrete and earned successes, then they will begin to internalize a well-deserved sense of self-confidence. Success will breed more success. I tell them, just because they failed yesterday does not mean they will fail tomorrow. I teach them to learn from each mistake and move forward. I believe students have to have expectations of themselves, and my job is to give them the skills to meet those expectations.”
“I believe each of my students needs to learn, not only the content and the concepts, but also how to share this information with others. To share the material, means they must learn it well enough to explain it. To do this, I set up situations where they work on interdisciplinary projects that include the math concepts, writing, research, and oral presentations using the latest technology. I have my students present at the elementary schools, at school board meetings and two times a year, we have an open house for their parents, other math classes and faculty where they also must present their projects. This gets them used to working in groups, taking responsibility for their share of the work and helps them learn to speak to large groups of over 200 people and demonstrate how technology can improve and enhance learning. I make sure they dress professionally when doing their presentations. I train them for what to expect in college. In addition, they learn the importance of doing a community service. This public presence requires them to learn how to behave in social and professional settings. Many of these students do not know how to say ‘thank-you’ or ‘sorry’ or ‘may I help you?’ I teach them they can get a great deal of mileage by doing for others.
“My story also serves as motivation for the students I teach here in Pomona. Many are poor and live several families to a home, with little food or money to survive. While I do not think I do anything special, I just try to get them to believe in themselves. I do not diminish what they go through, but I emphasize they have the talent and ability to go to college, get a formal education and achieve their dream. More importantly, every time a student from Ganesha High School goes to a major university and is successful, it helps guide others to a similar path.”