Jamie Escalante (1930-2010) is the famous mathematic practitioner on which the novel Best Teacher in America and the film Stand and Deliver. Known for his unorthodox style and notorious calculus lessons, he rose to notoriety for making such an incredible impact on the students of Garfield High, one of the most underperforming schools in Los Angeles in the mid-70s.
Escalante first started teaching in his birthplace Bolivia and immigrated to America when he was in his 30s. Although late in life he quickly learned English and studied for a degree in mathematics. By the 70s he had become a certified teacher and began teaching at Gerald High. He quickly rose to prominence as a teacher through his unorthodox, tough style that saw him challenge students with higher level mathematics rather than teaching them the minimum for passing their exams. Although met with resistance at first, Escalante earned the respect of both his students and the school leaders as his approach started to show results.
Escalante became famous in 1982 when many of his students passed the AP Calculus exam but got the same answer wrong. It was only after the students were made to repeat the test that the Educational Testing Service were happy that Escalante had actually raised the standards of these students to such an extent. Escalante’s teaching went from strength to strength and increasing numbers of his student passed the higher level exams throughout the 80s. The book and novel that tell his story were released in 1988, the same year he was awarded the Presidential Medal for Excellence. He received various prestigious awards for his service and in 2002 he was appointed a member of the President’s Advisory Commission. In 2001 Escalante returned to Bolivia to continue teaching until 2008 when his health began to deteriorate. He will be remembered for his unwavering belief in his students and his ability to motivate anyone to understand topics which other teachers would never have attempted.