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Teachers we admire: Raquel Castilla

January 4, 2019

Raquel Castilla was working as an educator when she was a kid, teaching her dolls how to read, write, play sports and, well, do everything else.

“I never made the decision to be a teacher,” said Castilla, who teaches Spanish at Santa Fe Waldorf School. “I just renew my vows every year.”

Castilla grew up in Madrid, Spain, where she attended a Catholic, all-girls private school. In eighth grade, she asked her parents if she could “please, please, please go to a public high school.” There, she attended a history class with a teacher who always came in smoking a cigarette. “He would sit down, blow some smoke into the air and pose a question,” Castilla remembers.

“I always loved teachers who asked a lot of questions. If we want to encourage thinking in the classroom, we have to ask questions,” Castilla said. “I’m interested when students are giving answers because they get me to reflect on what and how I think.”

Castilla wanted to be a dancer, but that was not necessarily encouraged in her household, so she studied educational psychology at the University of Madrid. Because higher education is free in Spain, Castilla was able to take many “pauses” in her studies to travel.

She was still in school when she was offered a job as a substitute Spanish teacher in a local high school. She loved it. When the term ended, she embarked on a “traveling the world adventure” with her boyfriend of the time, and they ended up in the United States. She’s been teaching middle school and high school Spanish in the states ever since.

She has been teaching for about 20 years, 10 of which have been spent at Waldorf. Castilla said she still relishes every moment she spends in the classroom with her students.

“It’s so fun and refreshing to work with young people; they keep me on my toes,” she said. “I love-love-love it.”

Castilla’s love for teaching is infectious to her students as well.

“I so appreciate her love for teaching,” said Liam Otero, a senior at Santa Fe Waldorf School. “She really cares that we learn and have fun doing it.”

Other students said they appreciate Castilla’s thoughtfulness, consideration, her understanding nature, her kindness and her sense of humor.

Some of the humor that Castilla brings into the classroom is not on purpose, however. Since English is her second language, she sometimes mispronounces English words.

“One time I said ‘thong’ instead of ‘tong’ and the students couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of class,” she said. “Another time I said ‘bitch’ instead of ‘beach.’ The list goes on. We always end up laughing about it and it’s all OK, but it was pretty embarrassing.”

Embarrassing or not, language is the great gift that Castilla brings to her students. “It’s important for students to have references for other cultures, so that they don’t get stuck in one way of thinking,” Castilla said.

She loves to learn, to travel, garden, dance and sing. She hates grading papers, reports and tests.

“It [is] my least favorite thing about being a teacher,” Castilla said of grading. “I prefer it when students can learn for the sake of learning, without having to worry about a grade. I really don’t enjoy evaluating my students.

“Inspiring youth is the only thing that feels meaningful to me as a job in the world right now. It’s very important to me that young people feel inspired about the world, and inspired to change it.”

Hannah Laga Abram is a senior at Santa Fe Waldorf School. Contact her at ceciliasycamore@gmail.com.

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