Tuesday, March 08, 2005

We all had favorite teachers who inspired us not only to study harder but to dream big. I had many, but a couple that stand out are Miss Fuller, my sophomore-year English teacher and Mr. Dougan, my high school wrestling coach. To these two I owe a passion for writing and fighting fair. For teenagers, a great teacher is that strangest of animals: an adult worthy of admiration, and emulation. If, as an adult, you’ve spent any time with teens, you know how impossibly exacting their standards are, and how few of us could pass muster. But when a connection is made, it’s deep and enduring. Because however they might pretend otherwise, kids want role-models. They want to believe.

My vote so far for the teacher of the year would have to go to Obain Auttouoman, hands down. Few teachers have inspired so many of their students as he has his, and my guess is that by year’s end the movie version of this whole deportation fiasco will be going into production with Jamie Foxx in the starring role. Mr. Auttouoman himself has star-power to spare. Everything about the man exudes love and intelligence. He has a generosity of spirit that is as undeniable as it is absolutely infectious.

And talk about a positive role model. He has been an inspiration since coming to America in 1992 from the Ivory Coast, where he had been twice jailed for his political views. He came to America, like so many before him, seeking the freedom and justice denied him in his native land. And in his adopted home he has been a model citizen, a dedicated public servant, and an inspiration to countless young people. If there is an ideal American, Mr. Auttouoman is it.

So it should really be no surprise that his threatened deportation due to an administrative cock-up has moved so many people to speak out, ultimately winning him a still-temporary reprieve. Now he’s got until 2007. Sen. John Kerry has submitted a bill intended to grant Mr. Auttouoman citizenship.

It’s that rarest of things in tough times: a happy ending. Well, almost. There is still something you can do not only to lend your voice to an unimpeachable cause, but to show Mr. Auttouoman and, perhaps more vitally, his students, that we as a society still value fighting the good fight. Go to fenway.boston.k12.ma.us, sign their petition, and get information on who to write or call to ensure that Mr. Attouoman will be able to remain in America, where he is doing so much good. Because there are a lot of things at stake here, not least the livelihood of an admirable public servant, and a great would-be and hopefully soon-to-be American citizen. There’s the lesson that when we believe, and dream big, we can make a difference, together.

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