COMMENTARY | There’s an old phrase that says “those who can’t do, teach.” But if you get a really good teacher, you just might be tempted to follow in that instructor’s footsteps.
No transition in my life, even including my doctoral studies, was rougher than going from a small insular grade school to an El Paso, Texas middle school across town, where all the kids gone to school from kindergarten through fifth grade. They all lived within walking distance of Blessed Sacrament school, and each other. I was the kid who lived across the mountain, in a completely different environment, who was born in a faraway place called Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
But in seventh grade, we had David Lombrana, who taught just about every subject that wasn’t math or science. His brother Vicente (another good teacher) got those two. He was firm, but fair with the students, and treated me just like one of the others.
Mr. Lombrana instilled a love of literature. It was tough, being a fan of history, to read fictional stories. But he introduced us to Jack London, Mark Twain and John Steinbeck, as well as Edgar Allan Poe. And if we were good, he’d spend the last few minutes of the day reading a short story of his favorite author: Erskine Caldwell.
All the stories were either funny or compelling, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very end. But what we didn’t realize was that there was a moral to each one. There were subjects of racism, sexism, using your mind to outwit your opponent, and struggling against nature. He also walked the walk, letting us know when we were falling into the same trap of being mean, lazy, or just not thinking, when we needed to hear the truth. I’ve done my best to incorporate some of his lessons in my classrooms as well, even if the students are a bit older.
Mr. Lombrana followed me and several students to a local high school, where he helped mold a top-notch speech and debate team before leaving for Houston, Texas. But even nowadays, we keep in touch by Facebook. Amazingly, we both remember those days like they were yesterday.
I was fortunate in live to have more than one good teacher in life, ranging from Catholic nuns in grade school to well-published researchers in college and graduate school who were mentors who worked hard to make me use all of my potential. But it was Mr. Lombrana who was the first to get me thinking that being a teacher could be something special.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.