Antonio Gil is not, he says, “the vision person” for Spanish language teaching at UF, but he is just about everything else. TAs know him both as “Dr. No”—the man to whom you send students who need to hear that word—and as Santa Claus. As Dr. No, Antonio can evaluate situations quickly, based on his long experience of undergraduate hopes, needs, and excuses. But he also enjoys wearing a red shirt to department parties at the end of Fall term, and handing out gifts to the staff and other honorees. Having been at UF for 32 years, he has the seniority to be taken seriously, whether as the bad guy or the good guy. And, “philosophically,” he is Dr. Yes for the Spanish and Portuguese Studies department chair, taking on whatever courses and duties need to be covered, unfazed by awkward schedules or numerous preparations.
As co-ordinator of the lower division Spanish program, Antonio serves as guinea-pig-in-chief for waves of language-learning technology. “Never adopt [an interface] unless it has already been used for six months to a year by a comparable program,” is a rule he wishes he could follow. He and I recall a difficult year when first-year Spanish first moved from paper lab manuals (for which the Language Learning Center hosted the audio online) to the publisher’s all-too-beta-version online workbook. That seemed disastrous, but at least there was an alternative—a prompt return to the paper books, and a wait until the interface was more user-friendly. First-year Spanish is now again in the midst of a struggle with an online text generating endless problems for students and instructors. Antonio, disgusted though he is by the poor “customer service,” expects the company to clean up its act ASAP. He knows experiments usually require tweaking.
Antonio was born in Cuba, to parents who ensured he learned English by sending him to a Miami summer camp where he was the only non-native English speaker; this experience, which he remembers with pleasure, was reinforced by tutoring in English. At the age of 14—with the change in regime at home–he moved, alone, to Mexico City, where he continued his education and held various jobs, often using his English-language skills. When he was about 20, with some friends, he moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he earned a BA at the University of Oregon. A professor advised him to apply for a year-long program in Italy—he had become interested in Italian—and he became the first American student enrolled in the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. He returned to Eugene for graduate school, teaching Spanish and Italian as needed and eventually leaving with a Master’s in the two languages.
Somewhere in there, Antonio briefly taught Spanish in a middle school, in a small, rough Oregon town. The experiment did not last long. ”Anyone who teaches middle school for more than two years has a place in heaven.”
He looked for college-level jobs teaching Spanish and Italian, and found one at Ohio State. There, he was involved in an innovative program, funded by a grant, of individualized, independent language instruction: students worked through lessons on their own, but could meet with their teachers one-on-one during extensive office hours; they passed tests at their own pace. It strikes me that this late-1970s experiment ought to be very applicable to online learning, and Antonio agrees.
At the end of his three-year contract at Ohio, he was looking around for other positions, and finding mostly very short contracts. UF made the best offer—a year—and Antonio, now with a family, moved to Gainesville. Obviously, the contract was renewed. His experience in Ohio’s large language programs prepared him for organizational jobs at UF. As co-ordinator of the lower-division program, he not only helps train the language instructors and troubleshoots for them, but also schedules sections, orders the textbooks, prepares the syllabus and exams, and everything else that has to be done on the ground for UF’s largest language program.
Antonio also works as a translator and intepreter; he picked up work at first from a local immigration attorney. Now, he notes, he is often working for internet customers whom he will never meet in the flesh. In the early 2000s, UF had a program in translation studies, and he taught a course in legal translation and interpretation. Antonio has taught Italian here, too, though it was clear when Spanish and Portuguese became a separate department that he would be most needed there, and there he remains, providing departmental memory and the authority of his “No.” And presents at Christmas..