Back to School – not just for the niños

Carlos recently started college classes in Dental Assisting. We really aren’t quite sure what he’ll do with that certificate when/if he passes, since dental assistants make half of what he makes at his labor job.

College is something Carlos has wanted to do since before he even came to the United States. He actually wanted to be a doctor in El Salvador, but he couldn’t afford to go to university – He immigrated here instead. Speaking almost no English, he washed windows, worked at McDonald’s, put flyers on cars. He left his dreams of being a doctor far behind.

Fourteen years later the opportunity came up for him to take this Dental Assisting course. Everything fell into place – he received a grant that covered the entire cost, the classes are 5 minutes down the street from our house, and the class is in the evenings so it doesn’t interfere with his work day. We decided, ¿Por qué no? … Why not?

The only thing Carlos was uncertain about was his English. He questioned whether it was yet good enough to make it through a college class. I told him he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I told him I would study with him for as long as it took until he understood everything. In the end, even if he completely failed, at least he would have tried instead of spent the rest of his life wondering what could have been.

Well, Carlos has made it through 2 weeks of classes now. On his first test? He received an 83% B.

Evenings are a little crazy here. The other night I was simultaneously helping both our boys with their homework while helping Carlos study words even I have trouble pronouncing in English, (Circumvallate lingual papillae, anyone?)

My brain was on overload, helping Carlos with dental vocabulary while trying to figure out a tangram puzzle with my 9 year old.

Sometimes I just pronounce the words the way a Spanish speaker would when I’m dictating and he’s writing so I don’t have to spell them. Other times, it just so happens that a knowledge of Spanish helps one memorize the meaning of words that are rooted in Latin.


nonmaleficence – do no harm

The “no mal” is right there. “Not bad” makes it easier to remember that it means “do no harm” – (with “harm” obviously being “bad”.)

veracity – truthfulness

In Spanish, “truth” is “veracidad” – so again, being a non-native English speaker is actually helpful with some of this vocabulary.

Sometimes being a Spanish speaker isn’t helpful at all though.

We laughed at this one for a few minutes before we could get back on track. Apparently a “mamelon” is only the “edge of an incisor tooth when it first erupts through the gum.” (Boring in comparison to what we were thinking about!)

Anyway, even though we aren’t sure where this class might take him, I think it’s a good thing. Not only is Carlos building confidence, but he’s setting an example for the boys. He always tells them, “Go to college so you don’t have to work like a burro.” Now he is showing them what can be done when you take a chance and put your heart into it.

How many more advantages our kids have compared to what Carlos came from – and yet there he is, with a backpack full of books at 33 years old and still speaking English with an accent so thick I sometimes have to help him out at drive thru windows.

Maybe he won’t ever be Dr. López, but I’d say nothing is impossible.


  1. This is great news Tracy. :) Such great aspirations and I love that you are both working together. My hubby will be going back to school soon too, for social work. He’s always wanted to do it, but it’s taken me this long to convince him that he will be a success. I love that you encourage your hubby and that you’re there to answer his questions. Hugs to you both y suerte!

    • This is awesome, Chantilly. I’m really excited for your husband. You’ve mentioned before that he’s dyslexic, right? … So that is really inspirational that he is going to go for it. I know he’ll do it – especially with your wonderful support. Abrazos y suerte to you two as well!

  2. I am so proud of Carlos…and of you for encouraging him. Sounds like this is the year of learning at your house…Carlos for dental school, your oldest for foreign language and musical instrument, your youngest at least for tangrams, and you for holding them all together and learning what they are learning! Going back to school (while working and having a family) can be one of the biggest challenges to a family, I know firsthand. It can also be so worthwhile and life-changing. I am thinking of you guys as you go through this transition. Keep up the good work!!!

    • Just call me “glue” … LOL. (While I hold them together, let’s see if I can keep myself together though!) ;)

      Thanks for your kind words, Amanda. Abrazos!

  3. Felicidades a Carlos for starting this journey! Les deseo muchos exito! I pictured all four of you studying together :) cute family! Les deseo lo mejor!

  4. It’s never too late to learn something new and I honestly feel that sometimes, it’s better to wait to go to college when you are really hungry to learn new things. It’s hard going back to school after so long, but so gratifying when you pull off great marks!

    Tell Carlos it could be worse…he could be almost 43 going back to school, like “someone” I know. :)

    • Carlos’s class has people of all ages – some younger, and some much older than him. I think it’s great that these days, no matter your age, people feel they can try something new or pursue something they regret not having pursued earlier. Never too late!

    • Read that link that Ezzy left here in comments. Talk about inspiration! WOW. I want to print it out and put it on the fridge.

      Wish you luck and much encouragement to follow your dreams. You definitely CAN do it, amiga. {Abrazos}

    • Carlos is generous, too – to let me follow my passion for writing all these years. I’m glad to support him now that he is trying to figure out what might make him happy.

      Gracias por los felicidades!

  5. No sabes… bueno… SI SABES la emoción que esto me da amiga!!! Congrats to all of you! You guys are troopers, and what Carlos will be learning (and teaching the boys) reaches far beyond textbooks and classrooms. This is a life lesson so valuable no grant could every cover it! YAY FOR YOU!!!!!
    Los quiero!

    • Gracias a ti, Sue – for all your encouragement. This is life changing and I so appreciate your guidance and enthusiasm. BESOTES!

  6. Tell Carlos we are rooting for him! I just re-enrolled in college as well, and it is challenging to be so much older than everyone else, and also to feel like my brain doesn’t want to do schoolwork any more. I’m surfeit will help him with his english, to gain confidence speaking in front of his classmates. And who knows, if he has the endurance to keep taking classes at night, there’s no telling what he could end up doing!

    • Getting back into “school work mode” is difficult for sure. To make it through high school, I had to establish very specific study habits to keep my (very ADD self) focused. LOL. Luckily I remember a lot of good tips and have been passing them onto Carlos.

      Good luck in your classes, Graciela. I had Carlos read the comments so he knows you all are rooting for him and is really touched by that.

  7. wow! I loved reading this post Tracy. So proud of Carlos for pursuing his dreams. There is something powerfully transformative about education. Even if he decides not to pursue work in this field, he’s still taking away so much from the experience. I do have a feeling we’ll be calling Carlos “Dr. Lopez” one day…


  8. Ok, so the circumvallate words? Those are taste buds. Different areas of our tongue have different types of taste buds, for different tastes. I’m thinking those are the ones around the edges, but I could be wrong. And I completely forget what they taste, be it sour, sweet, bitter, etc. I’m thinking the edges of our tongue taste sour, but don’t hold me to it. (Let me know how far off base I am!)

    • It’s something to do with taste buds and the tongue – that’s all I remember on that one. LOL. Don’t be testing me – it’s not my homework!

  9. So my question is why don’t YOU join the program? You could help supplement the family income (more than you do). And since you’re going through it anyway, might as well get something of your own from it! Just an idea.

    • Humincat – In all honesty, for me personally, I would rather waitress than be a dental assistant. The dental/medical field freaks me out. I *still* have heebie jeebies from the images I saw in Carlos’s text book tonight. LOL. I’m not exaggerating either… I literally had to cover photos with my hand while I read text, so I wouldn’t see them. (And even touching the PHOTO with my bare hand, felt icky so I had to use a piece of paper then. If you want to see similar photos, go to Google Images and search for “Oral Lesions” if you dare.)

      Covering the photos wasn’t even enough at times. The text description for “black hairy tongue” was enough to make me physically ill. *shudder*

      I haven’t ruled out taking classes/going back to school some day, but this particular course definitely isn’t for me.

  10. What an inspiration. I am going to share this with my husband who oftentimes feels like he can’t do something for lack of education. Seeing what a fellow Salvadoran is accomplishing just might give him the incentive to try something new.

    • This comment made my day, (and Carlos’s too.) We, as human beings, sometimes forget that we might inspire others – and it’s nice to remember that our actions can positively affect lives.

  11. Wow, what in inspiration you both are!! I always told Jose when he was still here he should at least go for his GED. So many doors would open. I also went back to school last year after having dropped out of high school 13 years before. I am absolutely proud of myself and know how proud my babies are too!

    • You should definitely be proud of yourself. I’m sorry that Jose didn’t get a chance to follow your advice – but I’m glad you are being such a good role model to your girls. Hang in there!

  12. I can so relate to this one! My husband has been studying ever since I met him. First ESL classes, then HS diploma (because he didn’t have the opportunity to go to HS in Mexico) and now college classes for Engineering…He still has a long way to go and I often feel like I’m taking the classes with him because he needs language support still. I often feel overwhelmed trying to help him, and take care of our 18 month old, but I am soooo proud of his motivation to keep learning. So way to go Carlos! Never give up! And way to go Tracy for helping EVERYONE with their homework! I also totally relate to your post about the drive thru windows! Totally been there too! My husband was terrified of them but has recently overcome his fear! :)

    • Engineering! Wow! … I having enough trouble with dental vocab – I can not imagine helping with that. LOL. Good for him, and good for you. Thanks for sharing. It helps to know others are doing this!

  13. You’re going to make me cry, amiga. You must be so proud of him. With your love and support, todo lo que necessita es su buena voluntad y tenacidad, por que SI SE PUEDE. He’s lucky to have you. I love how you’re trying to get to the root of the new vocabulary. Your story reminded me of the famous Johns Hopkins doctor from Mexicali who came here not knowing a word of English, only to become a world-renown surgeon. He’s from my mom’s town! Every time I hear his story my eyes well up. Sending you guys lots of positive energy. … share Quiñones story with Carlos! xoxo

    • Ezzy! That is such an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it with us. I just read it to Carlos and it was so inspirational. He said he had heard some of the story on the news once before. Dr. Quiñones works at the same hospital where I had surgery many years back. I wonder if we passed in the hallways :) … Another weird coincidence – Carlos started out as a welder, too.

      Thanks for this and for the positive energy. Besos!

  14. How exciting! I know you must be proud of Carlos. I’ve begged my husband to go back to school. Have fun with the dental terminology…. I’m sure you guys will be getting several laughs out of it. I’m a dental assistant and been in the field for 17 years (yikes! can’t believe it’s been that long). You never know when this skill will come in handy. Maybe one day or maybe never, but he will be more knowledgable than before when it comes to dentistry. If you guys have any questions, I’m just an email away. Congrats to your husband.

    • What a crazy coincidence! … 17 years is a long time! I take it you like your work? … Any tips for him?

      Tonight we’re studying a chapter on lesions and the graphic images in the text book are making me want to loss my dinner. LOL.

  15. Great job there and here in Singapore, we always believe in continuous learning and I wish him all the best. Slowly but surely and he has set such a good example to your boys as it will definitely motivate and inspire them.

    I wish him all the best :D

  16. French is also helpful for all these complicated fancy words in TV games and crosswords! The Latin root I guess.

    Going back to school is kind of a strange experience but at the same time, why not? North America is pretty flexible about it, lots of people have two careers or more.

  17. That’s so awesome that he’s going back to school! He’ll be so glad he did. Free time will be very limited, but just keep in mind that it’s not forever and at the end of it all he’ll have so much to show for it (pride, a great example for your sons, a much larger vocabulary, accomplishment, the list goes on and on….). My Esposo went back to school in his 30s as well (just finished college in June!). It was a lot of hard work and strain on all of us, but so worth it. His English and writing improved by leaps and bounds. Keep it up Carlos! Bien hecho! You should all be proud!

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