The Power of Teacher-Mentors
(From left) Terese Abuan, retired Morro Bay High School teacher; Hernan Hernandez; and Scott Schalde, Morro Bay High School principal. PHOTOS BY EILEEN ODANAKA VAVRA
CONVERSATION WITH A FIRST-GEN GRADUATE OF THE EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND ADMINISTRATION MASTER'S PROGRAM
by Angelina Benyamin Rodriguez
Hernan Hernandez recently earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration with an accreditation for administration from Cal Poly's School of Education. He hopes to use his degree for positive change in his community's dual immersion programs. Having taught at schools in San Luis Obispo County for six years — including the elementary school he attended as a child — he began this fall as a first-grade teacher at Baywood Elementary School in Los Osos, California, where students are taught in Spanish and English.
How would you describe your background?
My family emigrated from Mexico when I was 5. My parents had three jobs each and worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and a lot on weekends. My elementary, middle and high school teachers really dedicated time to me. When I got to Morro Bay High School, I developed a really good relationship with my AVID*and math teacher, Mrs. (Terese) Abuan. My parents wanted me to go to college. I wanted to go to college. I asked her, “What do I need to do to do that?” Mrs. Abuan said, “We're going to work towards that. Let me give you all the tools that you need to succeed.” Her passion and dedication to students are two things that really still hold strong with me. Mr. (Scott) Schalde was another teacher who went the extra mile to make sure I went to college. What they did for me, I want to do for my students.
*AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and is a nonprofit college-readiness program.
Why did you want to go into teaching?
I never thought I wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school. Mrs. Abuan was one of my biggest driving forces for wanting to be a teacher. Initially, I majored in psychology at Chico State. But sophomore year I realized that might not be what I want. I had a friend doing the teaching credential who told me, “You should go and observe in classrooms, maybe you’ll like it.” I really liked going to these K-12 classrooms. The biggest, most impactful one was the dual-immersion class. That really solidified that not only do I want to pursue a teaching career, I want to do it in a dual immersion format.
What does it mean for you to be a male Hispanic educator and role model?
Currently, in our district, there's very little Hispanic teacher representation. We have a lot of Hispanic and English learner students. It's super important for my students to see me and be able to see themselves and think, “Wow, we can do that. He did it. He looks like us. He speaks like us.” That's one of the most motivating messages I get to share with parents.
Why did you want a master’s degree and did you have any mentors at Cal Poly?
Many teachers really helped me. Andrea Somoza-Norton and Natasha Neumann were two of my biggest influences. Joe Koski was another who really motivated me. He was very inspirational, and he put himself in our perspective as the student. Dr. Neumann has this caring persona about her. I think she helped me grow not just as an educator, but also to really see what my role will be as a future leader. My biggest mentor right now is the principal at C.L. Smith Elementary, Aaron Black, who encouraged me to pursue this administration credential and master’s. I'll be part of a leadership team at Baywood Elementary and hoping to look at different grade levels during my time there.
Dr. (Natasha) Neumann has this caring persona about her. I think she helped me grow not just as an educator, but also to really see what my role will be as a future leader.
Recent graduate of Cal Poly's educational leadership and administration master's program
What do you hope students leave your classroom with?
I always tell my students — and I heard this my first year at Del Mar Elementary from one of the teachers there, so now I say every day to them — “Your best is fabulous.” No matter what it is, if it's writing, their art — whatever it is, your best is fabulous. It doesn't matter if their writing is one sentence, one word or a whole page full of words. There certainly can be room to grow. But in order to teach students and help them grow, you need to make them feel successful. And I think that phrase does that across every genre.