When I was thirteen, I met a person who would redefine what I expected from a teacher. And for this, I consider myself very fortunate. I have had many teachers who cared about me, but no one influenced me as much as Fernando Acosta.
For context, I did secondary education in a brand-new school in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was part of the first generation; we were sort of like beta testers. Fernando was hired to teach an ambitious Human Development class. The school was Catholic and boy, did they get more than they expected from Fernando.
Fernando was the first teacher I realized had a life beyond the classroom. Every student has that moment where they see a teacher outside of school, perhaps in the mall for the first time. The difference for me, was that I had this revelation talking to him inside school.
Fernando was an extrovert, religious, but pragmatic, but more importantly he spoke to us as adults. Before his class, I always thought teachers looked down on students. They cared for us, but didn’t expect much (besides their class work) from us. Some of us were already thinking about our future, what to study in college, but he went further. “What kind of life do you want?” He wasn’t pushing an agenda. Simultaneously, he was happy to tell you if he disagreed with something. He didn’t sugarcoat things.
The next year, Fernando became the school’s principal. Students and teachers undoubtedly appreciated the guy. Weird how he was rebellious and yet the authority at the same time.
Fernando liked to have one-on-ones with each of us for no other reason than to check in. It wasn’t a scary thing to do: I remember sitting on the stairs with him, talking about my future and maybe politics. “Memo, you are very smart, but that’s not enough. What’s the point of being smart for its own sake?” This question touched me. I thought I was going to eat the world. Why? Because I was smarter than the rest, I believed. This question and Fernando’s way of living opened my eyes up to a bigger world.
He invited me to be a missionary: to go and meet people in real need and help them with what little I could. I learned how to be responsible at fourteen. From this experience, I learned that you can be impoverished and be hopeful and open to new ideas. This community of people gave me way more than I could ever have given them.
So while my classmates were in spring break during high school, I was happy in the middle of Oaxaca. Fernando thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of a team, I’m not sure why. I was scared of failure, but I told myself that if Fernando thought it was right for me to lead, then I must have the ability to handle it.
At nineteen, I reluctantly accepted I was not a believer anymore. It was hard to tell my mother, but telling Fernando was tougher. He had plans for me on his team, yet he took it better than I expected. Once again, no judgment. Sadness yes, but he wished me the best and to stay true to myself.
When I was twenty, Fernando passed away. It was crushing. Once again, he pushed me to an unexplored part of life. This was the first time a person I knew died. I remember him fondly. He was the best kind of teacher: passionate, caring and thought-provoking. To this day, I still reflect on my learning experiences with Fernando.
By: Guillermo “Memo” Alcantara
Platform Lead @ Kiddom
Originally published at Teacher Voice.