Heartbreaking, inspiring and a tribute to dedication, Reading With Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship is the memoir of an Asian American ‘Teach For America‘ teacher and her friendship with a poor black student in Helena, Arkansas. Their special relationship is in the forefront of the story with race relations, education and the legal system the backdrop for setting.
Michelle had always been encouraged by her traditional Taiwanese parents to get an education, settle down and get married. But Michelle found the job of teaching troublesome kids in the Delta extremely rewarding. She stuck with it for a couple of years during which her student, Patrick, attended on occasion. His home life was less than perfect and his family was not overwhelmingly supportive or encouraging when it came to school. Most of the people in the small towns were moving to the big cities and those left behind were the poorest and least educated.
After two years, Michelle, feeling pressure to fulfill her own personal goals and responsibilities, left Arkansas to attend Harvard Law School. Upon her graduation, she learned Patrick had dropped out of school and was currently in jail for murder. Feeling a sense of responsibility, she gave up her life and returned to the Delta to meet with him, try to guide him legally, and then continued teaching him while he was in prison. The beautiful gift she gave him of being his mentor and teacher changed the course of his life. While in jail, Patrick wrote many letters to his daughter, allowing him to grow and prepare for all the work it would take to develop that relationship once he was released. Meanwhile, Michelle developed her inner strength to fight for what she believed in even if it went against the wants and needs of her beloved parents.
I admire the commitment Michelle Kuo made to Patrick; we must tend to the people in the poorest of neighborhoods where mentors, guidance, and education are most needed. She clearly made a difference in her student’s life, but currently, with a felony on his record he has a hard time finding a job. According to a Random House Q & A with the author, Patrick’s “food stamps recently got cut off because of a federal law that cut aid for 500,000 of the poorest people in the United States.” On a positive note, his daughter is in third grade and doing well.
I highly recommend this inspiring story of dedication and human responsibility to teachers and everybody else who is able to contribute positively to our society.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle Kuo was originally born in Michigan to immigrant parents from Taiwan. When she joined ‘Teach for America,’ she moved to Arkansas. When she was attending Harvard, she worked as a student attorney at the Criminal Justice Institute as well as a mediation clinic for domestic violence. Over the years, she has worked hand in hand with immigrants in immigrant rights law. She went on to receive the 2016 Board of Trustees Award for Distinguished Teaching.