Beloved Spanish teacher to retire after four decades in the district

May 4, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov and Sandhya Sundaram

Among alumni and current students, Room 601 is iconic.

It is filled with colorful art, projects and posters. In the back corner, a display of photographs depicting hundreds of beaming faces represents fond memories of countless trips to Mexico and events at Saratoga High. Flags of various Hispanic countries line the top wall, papel picados adorn the whiteboards and piñatas hang throughout a classroom that has been the second home to Spanish teacher Arnaldo Rodriguex for the past 38 years.

After considering retirement for many years, Rodriguex finally committed to signing his retirement papers earlier this year.

“It’s mixed emotions because it’s not that I want to retire, but I feel that maybe it’s time to let someone else replace me here and do wonderful things,” Rodriguex said.

Having grown up in Costa Rica, Rodriguex came to Lakewood High School, near LA, as a foreign exchange student when he was a senior in high school. Rodriguex decided to continue his education in the United States, later going to San Jose State University.

Although Rodriguex’s father originally wanted his son to become a chemist, Rodriguex decided to pursue a career in education after discovering a true passion for teaching at the end of his sophomore year.

A professor was impressed by how Rodriguex presented a presentation on morphology, a branch of biology, to the class, and asked him if he ever considered becoming a teacher.

Soon after, Rodriguex changed his major to Spanish Linguistics and his minor to Spanish. Rodriguex believes he made the right choice, as he has loved almost every moment of teaching for the past four decades.

For Rodriguex, the relationships he builds with his students, some dating back to the 1970s, are what he said he will miss the most.

Joe Dermer is one such alumnus who had Rodriguex in 1978-80 at Los Gatos, where Rodriguex taught from 1974-1981 before accepting a position at Saratoga High.

“Senor Rodriguex, or ‘Don Arnaldo,’ was my favorite teacher,” Dermer said in an email. “His insistence that no English be spoken in class even at the lower levels like Spanish 2 made it challenging, but you progressed faster in the language.”

After forging a friendship as a student, Dermer remained in touch and even attended Rodriguex’s wedding years later. The two still occasionally meet for coffee to catch up and reminisce.

Dermer fondly remembers Rodriguex’s “sizable afro along with a big thick moustache” as well as his dedication and witty personality.

“I used to translate jokes into Spanish and tell them to Don Arnaldo,” Dermer said. “He would always have a big hearty laugh — not sure if the joke was funny or just my translation of it.”

Hank Wang, another alumnus who had Rodriguex in the early ‘90s, said that Rodriguex was a friend, mentor and father figure.

“I had lost my father unexpectedly the year before, and I remember even today how hard high school was for me at that time,” Wang said. “Señor got how hard it was to be a student at SHS. He was able to connect with all of us and care for us as individuals.”

Wang has remained extremely close to Rodriguex throughout his life after graduating, and he wishes that his kids could have Rodriguex as their teacher.

“He was there when I graduated college and medical school, he gave a speech at my wedding and he has watched both of my boys grow up,” Wang said. “To this day, he is one of my closest friends and his family has become our family.”

Perhaps one of Rodriguex’s greatest legacies at the school is the annual Mexico trip that he started in 1974 for Los Gatos High and in 1981 for Saratoga High. The program allows students to spend a week in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with a host family, providing students the opportunity to be fully immersed in Mexican culture. Students also have the chance to make friends and hone their Spanish skills at the local school.

2017 alumna Mitali Shanbhag said that the trip allowed her to learn about the culture and lifestyle of Cuernavaca while communicating in Spanish and building lifelong friendships. According to Shanbhag, Rodriguex, who organizes the trip, is sort of a “celebrity back there,” as all the kids adore and look up to him.

“He’s the kindest and most encouraging teacher, and I feel comfortable going to him with anything,” Shanbhag said. “I always think of him more as a mentor or friend rather than an instructor.”

Rodriguex said that the trip allows students to break stereotypes and barriers and truly experience the culture beyond the classroom. He hopes to stay connected to the school by continuing to plan these trips as a volunteer.

Spanish 2 and 3 teacher Bret Yeilding said that Rodriguex’s retirement will be a huge loss for the school.

“He’s such a dynamic character in the department and on campus,” Yeilding said. “He’s been a great influence on all the languages, not just Spanish.”

According to Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 teacher Sarah Voorhees, the Spanish department is about 75 percent of the way through the interview process to find a replacement for Rodriguex. Voorhees will teach Spanish 5 AP next year, a class Rodriguex had previously taught.

“I will miss all the work that he does for the world language teachers and the work he does with our students,” Voorhees said. “But mostly I will miss his sense of humor and his hugs. He gives the best hugs!”

As the bittersweet moment of his retirement arrives, Rodriguex hopes to always remember his time here in the district.

“There are so, so many memories that I would just like for it all to be one beautiful, wonderful, everlasting memory together,” Rodriguex said.

 

 

 

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