CSU Voices and Views

Sparking a Love for Learning

Richard Torres (far right) at the Better Together: California Teachers Summit. Also pictured: (L to R) Joan Bissell, CSU's Director of Teacher Education and Public School and teachers summit speakers Desiree Olivas and Leland Melvin.

Richard Torres, far right, pictured with (L to R): Joan Bissell, CSU’s Director of Teacher Education and Public School Programs; teachers summit speakers Desiree Olivas and Leland Melvin. Better Together: California Teachers Summit at CSUF on July 31, 2015.

By Richard Torres
Student Assessment and Educational Measurement, Orange Unified School District

I was never much of a student. The “one teacher who sparked a love for learning” never entered my life. However, when my parents gave me an ultimatum and a choice between work or school, I chose to attend college as a way of delaying the inevitable reality of adulthood. Books seemed so much more inviting than getting a job.

Once I completed my general education at Cypress College, I found myself transferring to Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) still uncertain of what my future had in store. With a knack for writing and an interest in literature, I decided to focus my studies on English. I’m not quite sure when it happened, maybe between the pages of Milton or Shakespeare, but a love for learning was ignited once I became a student at CSUF. The discussions in class opened up my mind to differing views. It was evident that my professors truly loved their curriculum. For the first time, school and learning was fun.

Upon graduating, with no regard for where my English degree might lead me, I accepted the often-suggested career of teaching. I began as a substitute teacher and was quickly hired in the Orange Unified School District. The principal offered me an opportunity to teach second grade and I haphazardly accepted. I immediately learned that this was far more than just a job; parents entrusted me with the responsibility of their children’s education. My life of uncertainty finally began to gain focus.

Today, after 16 years as an educator, I have taught nearly every elementary grade and even adult ESL. I returned to CSUF in 2003 to earn my master’s degree in education administration under the direction of Dr. Ron Oliver. His classes were inspirational, allowing an understanding of how important strong leadership is in a school setting. I have since carried out Dr. Oliver’s exemplary teaching through my own classroom practices.

This year, I was given the opportunity to come back to CSUF once again. Not as a student, but as a speaker to present at the first-ever Better Together: California Teacher’s Summit. The summit was developed for teachers and school administrators to connect and share best practices on implementing the new state standards (often referred to as Common Core) in the classroom. During my presentation, I shared one of the lessons I had led my students to study – the exploration of the concept of resilience: what it is, and how it has shaped our world. I discussed how my students met and questioned a Holocaust survivor and researched the obstacles overcome by historical figures. My students were able to connect the subjects to their own lives when they interviewed community members and parents about the hardships they had overcome. This experience became a motivating force for the students when I assigned them to create poetry that illustrates their own journeys of discovery.

With the adoption of new state standards, a gift of creative license has been handed over to educators. No longer am I the delivery system of facts and knowledge, but a facilitator of scholastic endeavors. Students participate in Socratic Dialogue, arguing points of view similar to what one might find in a college classroom. Children must think critically to support their answers, and problem-solve when they are confronted with obstacles. Engagement is at its peak, utilizing technology at every opportunity.

My goal has always been clear – to ensure school is never boring or uninspired. If my students aren’t having fun learning, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I want to provide my students with a high level of interest that I did not have growing up, and I have spent a career searching for methods to realize this vision. The list of methods has grown as the years have passed; I have used student council, video production, robotics and computer coding in my classroom. My favorite method of teaching though, is the new state standards.

I have recently left the classroom and taken a position in Student Assessment at the Orange Unified School District’s office. One day, I hope to administer over a school site, where I will continue my vision of a school where no child leaves uninspired. A place where every teacher sparks a love for learning.

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