Angel Nunez and his wife Ligia in the shallows of a sandbar just offshore of San Pedro, 2020
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January 28, 2022

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"Angel Nunez and his wife Ligia in the shallows of a sandbar just offshore of San Pedro, 2020

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."

Angel Nunez married Ligia Gomez in 1973.

Photograph courtesy Angel Nunez

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Respecting our elders, 1991

by Jayson Forman

Here’s the scene:

(High school kids in class murmuring in the background while their teacher is on the phone with a parent)

Parent on the phone:
“… and how dare you write up my f’ing daughter. I’m sure that whatever she said was because she was defending herself against incompetent liars like you! She is not disrespectful and….”

Student in the background:
“Ooh.. Mr. Smith is getting cussed out by some ghetto b* on the phone!”

Parent on the phone:
“Who’s that fouled mouth little *** talking like that in your class?” Is that the type of students that my daughter has to put up with?”

“Well I’m glad that you asked that question Mrs. Fernandez because the foul mouth student that you just heard happens to be your daughter!”….. “You know.. the reason that you called me to educate me on how much of an angel she is and wanting to know why I would lie to you about her behavior in class?”

Anymore questions or can I get back to teaching my class?”

That was a regular day in the life of my roommate while he was a high school teacher here in California.

To my generation and those before me, that conversation sounds like a fictional novel. The thought of disrespecting a teacher is inconceivable.

In our culture, teachers were revered and respected in and out of school. We would be mindful of our language and behavior regardless of the day or place. We never addressed them casually. Being disrespectful to them would mean that we’d have to answer to the principal or worse, our parents who would then take us back to the teacher and watch us apologize for whatever we did.

I personally “blame” one man for fostering such high and consistent level of respect to teachers; Mr. Núñez.

That itself says a lot. The island is littered with Mr. Núñezes. Seems like every 4th person you met was a “Núñez”. Except, when anyone said “Mr. Núñez”, there’s only 1 person that they’re obviously referring to; “Teacher Angel Núñez”.

He taught generations of the population in addition to his main job of being the high school principal.

Under his watchful eye, we never experienced any school scandals, no corruption, and above all, he treated everyone equally. I’ve been close friends with his family but that had no influence on how I was treated in school nor his high expectations of my grades and my behavior.

Looking back, he was more than just an English teacher and a principal, he was a mentor and was willing to listen to all students that weren’t meeting the behavioral expectations. He was willing to listen to what’s really going on with them before jumping to conclusions and he’d never betray their trust in him. He was easy to confide in and he would give advice like a father or an experienced friend.

Even those who were considered to be your typical high school bully would straighten up and act right when they’d hear his voice in the hallway.

During one of my teenaged phases, I used to be defiant at my dad when he’d tell me that I need to respect him because he’s my father and he’s older.

My rebuttal; “Respect is not something that you demand, it’s something you earn and I will award you accordingly…. and “older” doesn’t always mean “wiser”. In your case “older just means you’re “older”.

(Yeah… I know… raising me was not easy by any means).

Mr. Núñez was someone who commanded respect from everyone who knows him. He was consistent, very wise and even though he didn’t have any “favorites”, he’d randomly ask follow up questions of students he had private conversations with which would make anyone feel special.

“How was your birthday party this weekend?”
“Is your dad recovering from his surgery?”

It’s still the biggest culture shock that I can’t get used to when I see how teachers are treated here versus the way we grew up.

Parents would never question a teacher’s opinion nor report when they’d provide feedback.

Here, teachers have to walk a fine line between keeping their classes on track, being careful of how they interact with students and their parents, staying alert on any activities that might be aimed towards a school threat and dealing with distracting students. I only have one question…. When do they get to teach?

I don’t know what the culture is like today, but I’m proud that, as an adult, I still hear my former classmates refer to him as the one and only, Mr. Núñez.

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