TBT: The Lasting Inspiration of My Teacher

A Throwback Post!! I had a blog before this one, and I have always found great comfort and strength in journaling. The posts in this series are throwbacks to feelings, events, and lessons learned before.

In the recent months, I have experienced the loss of many loved ones. They say these things come in threes, but it was coming in sixes. This Thanksgiving, I want to honor a teacher of mine who passed away all too soon just weeks ago. This post is from the day of his funeral. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for time with my loved ones.


My mom recently sent me a quote, “Grief is love with no where to go.” This resonated with me and my feeling of loss on a beautiful level. While I choose to believe that after this life we must go somewhere better, I know that doesn’t make it easier to continue on this Earth without them.

This year, my beloved school – in which I was a student and then a teacher – closed, and my grandma passed away. While vastly different, these two events have stirred up unfamiliar feelings of grief in me. This past week my High School Spanish teacher passed away suddenly and another unfamiliar wave of grief has come over me. Today, I realized he inspired me.

Juan Carlos Cruz was my Spanish High School teacher for two years. His teaching style was perfect for my learning style. Although I wasn’t good at Spanish, my love for the language and culture grew in leaps and bounds in his classroom. He wrote a college recommendation for me that enabled me to get in to my first choice school. When I would come home from college, my siblings who were his students at the time would say he said, “hi.” It felt great to be remembered by such a popular teacher. Eventually, I reached a goal and dream and became a Spanish teacher myself. Today, while sitting at his funeral, I saw my previous Spanish students at their Spanish Teacher’s funeral, too. That’s when it hit me…

Señor Cruz helped me become the teacher I am today.

In his class, you knew you had to work hard, but there was always an unpredictable amount of fun and games. You never knew what to expect when you walked into his classroom because he was always switching up his style. While my conjugating and spelling didn’t drastically improve under his tutelage, my love for the Spanish language and culture grew in a way only man with the passion of Cruz could foster. Today, I realize he inspire me.

He was my first teacher who used a PowerPoint with pictures of our vocabulary words to introduce a new set of words. As a visual learner, this was incredibly helpful. I applied this concept to one of my favorite presentations in college after reading Temple Grandin’s “Thinking in Pictures” – a book that was also a pivotal point for me in pursuing Special Education. Once I became a teacher, I used these Picture PowerPoints to introduce each of the vocabulary lessons for my Fifth Graders. Today, I realize he inspired me.

He was the teacher who would let us have a review day before the quiz. He gave us the time and space to study and was available for questions. We would play hang man, or quiz each other, or just chat with him. As a teacher, I tried to give my students the time and space to study in their own way while being available for any assistance they may have needed. Cruz never underestimated the power of time and space and I tried to remember the same in my classroom. Today, I realize he inspired me.

He had a way of taking what we had to learn and making it more fun than activities in a textbook. He would tell us stories about his life in Spanish, he would put on a video about a soccer star, we would watch Food Network specials about Spanish food, he would put on Spanish music and dance and try to get us up and dancing. His way of teaching was unconventional, but it made a lasting impact on me. As I look back on my time in his classroom, I realize how much he impacted me as a teacher in my own classroom. Today, I realize he inspired me.

I never truly expressed my appreciation for his teaching to him. I took his lessons and teaching for granted in the long run. I never wrote a letter, or an email, or paid a visit to tell Cruz, “hey, thanks for being a great teacher! I use some of your teaching technique in my classroom!” I never shared my love of teaching and Spanish with the man who inspired that love. I thought he would always be at Watchung Hills. I thought in the event he would leave, I would have some notice to stop by and wish him well. Today, I realize I’ve lost that opportunity. Today, it is clear we aren’t ever promised tomorrow.

There are times when we realize inspirations once the opportunity to truly appreciate them has passed. We may see the positive impact another person has had on us, but lose the time in our daily lives to tell them. This love I feel for my former teacher, for my former student’s teacher has no where to go. So I wrote it down to get it out of my being and into the world in hopes that my mistake won’t be yours. Thank your inspirations for sharing their passions with you.

My love for the Spanish language and culture and teaching will continue to grow thanks to the inspiration of Señor Cruz. Gracias por todo.


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