A Tribute to Vicente Simanca, My 6th Grade ESL Teacher

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Published on May 9, 2019

I remember clearly the minute I stepped into Mr. Simanca’s classroom at Citrus Grove Junior High in Miami, Florida. I was 11 years old and didn’t know a single word in English. Being in a new environment, I didn’t know the language, I had no friends, I missed my family back home, and I had his class for two periods.

Mr. Simanca was always dressed in khakis, old man shoes, a navy blue blazer with gold buttons on the sleeves, and a warm smile on his face. His teaching style was not conventional even for the time period;he really allowed his students to blossom through his love of teaching. I wonder how he was able to deal with a classroom full of kids from different countries and ethnicities, but one thing we always knew is that he was never far away when we needed his help. As we moved up in our ESL journey and out of his class, he was always interested in our academic progress and keeping track of those of us who “annoyed” him the most.

As I look back now, as I am in pursuit of my degree in education I can tell that he had genuine intentions and a passion for teaching. He introduced us to technology and stimulated our sense of wonder with the game “Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego.” It turns out that he was also a computer geek! We looked forward to the weekly computer experience that we had to wait for because it was the only computer in the building; He would insert the floppy disk game and sat back to see our interactions. Mr. Simanca was a “disciplinarian” and if we were disruptive, he would give us lines to write as punishment, that is until we got clever and began prewriting the lines. He also did not tolerate what’s known as bullying today, because I can clearly recall him setting a specific student in her place for trying to intimidate me. As the school year was coming to a close, I remember asking him if I would be able to pass the class and he replied: “What language are you speaking right now?”

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No matter how old you are, an educator’s footprint in your life will never fade away.

I passed the class and even though I saw him in passing, I never got a chance to thank him for the valuable gift he gave me. Fast forward to Fall 1994 in my first semester at SCSU. I made a long distance phone call to my old school in Florida, anxious to let him know that I made it. I was no longer a statistic, and I knew that part of my success was because of his efforts as a teacher.

Mr. Simanca was elated to hear from me and was surprised when I asked him to make me a copy of that game we played on the computer and he replied “What do you need that game for? You don’t need it!” but then he made a bet with me: He said that if I wrote him a letter first that he would send me $50! I got to it as soon as I got off the phone, and soon enough, I got a letter from him in return. I knew that he was proud of me, and I wanted him to know how thankful I was for his contribution to my life.

A few years passed and I went to reach out once again; I called the school, asked to speak to him and was told that two years earlier Mr. Simanca passed away from cancer. I was devastated, I couldn’t believe that a man who had so much to give to children could not be exempt from the perils of this destructive disease, so today, this is my tribute to him.

I don’t know where he is, but I know that he is wearing that navy blue jacket with the gold buttons, shaking his head, looking at me and thinking that I am foolish for crying as a write this assignment as a tribute to him. We never know the impact someone is going to have in our lives, but when they do, acknowledge them by thanking them.