“The classroom is where I develop and grow, and that’s where I have my attachments,” Victor Jordán-Orozco says. He has been in many classrooms, teaching many subjects, on the way to his present position as a Spanish lecturer. “It took me a very long time to decide what I wanted to be when becoming a grown-up. I was always looking for things.” So far, and for the moment, teaching Spanish at UF seems to satisfy this restlessness.
Victor was born and grew up in Cali, one of the biggest cities in Colombia. His first ambition was to become a doctor, so, after high school, he studied biochemistry in Bogotá and enrolled in the medical school in Cali. After a few years, he realized that a medical career would not satisfy him. He resolved to travel, and after a term in an ESOL program at Southern Illinois University, he enrolled as an undergraduate there. He was delighted by the variety of coursework available, and took a BA in history with a minor in psychology, proceeding to study for an MA in history. While still in Carbondale, he married a fellow Colombian who was also studying there. They returned to Cali, where he planned to write a Master’s thesis (he never did). He had hoped to join a history faculty, but found the atmosphere in the departments there too doctrinaire for his taste.
Victor’s teaching career began at this point. A friend, knowing about his English-language skills, asked him to pitch in as a substitute second-grade teacher at a bilingual private school. “I loved it! I discovered something I had never experienced. So I have been in education ever since.” He taught at elementary, middle, and high-school levels over the next decade or so, mostly subjects such as history, geography, psychology, even economics, but also the whole range of elementary-school materials. His responsibilities increased, and he became principal and then rectór of a private school. While well-paid, these administrative jobs took him away from the classroom—and from his family, too.
It was time for a change. The family had already spent a difficult year in Miami, when Victor’s wife became part of a medical trial. Victor had taken advantage of the break to pick up a master’s degree in “Computer Applications in Education.” Now, moving to the U.S. seemed likely to open up opportunities –educational, at least—for the children and for Victor too. In 2001, the family moved to Miami. The first taste of being immigrants was not so sweet: “you have to start over.” It got better; Victor and his wife are becoming U.S. citizens this summer (2013).
In 2002, Victor’s oldest daughter was enrolling at UF, and he had been accepted into UF’s doctoral program in Spanish Literature, so the whole family moved to Gainesville: “We were Gators at the same time.“ He saw the change as an opportunity to take seriously his desire to write fiction and poetry. (He has published a book of poetry, Tremores, and a story in Pegaso and in the online journal Divergencias; more are online on his blog. )
Victor wrote theses for both his MA and PhD in Spanish literature at UF, looking at the representation of particular cultural elements—race/ethnicity, technology—in 19th-century Colombian fiction. Technology in 19th-century Colombia: railways, ships and boats, carriages, telegraphs, plows and combine harvesters, eyeglasses, clocks and watches!
The UF Spanish program, of course, had Victor teaching Spanish language courses from the time of his arrival. Though he had never taught Spanish or at the university level, “teaching is teaching.” He was and is very aware of the need to learn more about the language, to stay fresh and have new insights for students who ask interesting questions. Victor moved from teaching assistant to adjunct to lecturer; eventually he taught both first-year and third-year courses, and introductory classes in Latin-American literature. Currently he is the coordinator of Spanish 1134, a large and relatively new “accelerated” course for students who have some high-school credits in the language.
Victor claims he could not train a Spanish instructor—he would need a deeper understanding of grammar, phonology, and morphology. But it is fascinating to hear how he would train a teacher to teach: how you place your desk and the students’ seats, when to be loud or quiet, when to call on someone and when to ignore them, how to confront them effectively over problematic performance or behavior. “Circles are magic” for encouraging conversation; never put more than 4 students in a small group; and so on. Above all, you the teacher must communicate to students the value of the knowledge you are trying to transmit to them. Working with middle-schoolers, in particular, taught Victor to be relaxed in the classroom, in control of his message, respectful of the students while commanding their respect. “There are some ways in which we just don’t grow up,” he laughs, including himself and me in that sweep.