by Anna Castillo
“Fernando Lopez Nieto”, said our 11th grade guidance counselor to the parents’ meeting. “Be careful with that teacher! We’ve had many complaints about him.” We were 15 years old and nervous. When he entered the classroom, he made us stand up. He was a 60 year old man, not too tall, a little chubby, balding snow-white hair that contrasted with a tiny little black mustache and a nose that seemed too big. He always wore a suit. The first thing he told us is that in his class, everybody dances; those who don’t, leave. He taught us to dance to a song that said “When I die I want to be buried with a pennant from my University”, and at the end of every class we would finish with a University cheer (Goya!). The class itself was Logic. He would put forth a topic and the homework was always research. Class would begin with him asking each student to say something about the topic. If you didn’t bring anything, you were out. Because he didn’t tolerate “people who come to steal knowledge.”
The third test (after collaboration and dancing) was memorizing Jaime Sabines’ poem “The Lovers” and reciting it in unison with the group. If you didn’t know it, guess what…? You’re out! After three months, there were about ten students left out of 50. He would call us “the survivors”. Additionally to all this, active participation in class was required. We all had to back up our arguments and positions. We had to think about each word we were going to use. Many didn’t like that he would call us oxen or cows, but I laughed about it… and appreciated that he included cows!
After the 5th month I stopped going to his class. I would see him in the hallways and he’d say hello. I was embarrassed, but he would say that they missed me in class, and were wondering when I’d return (of course, in order to return I would have to catch up on ALL the late work). After two months, I was caught up and returned to “the survivors». After that I was consistent. He didn’t even look at my final paper, and the exam were questions about my learning experience, my perspective on his class and my expectations as a person. Seven of us saw the class all the way through. To this day I thank him for pushing my boundaries, for being so rigorous and demanding, and for showing me the power of the collective. Years later I still enjoyed reading his Monday column in the newspaper.