Two teachers find strength and inspiration in working with students - in ways they never could have expected when taking the job.
Having a light pole fall on you isn’t exactly a great day on the job. But Alain Archuleta says, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” The electrical trades instructor at Albuquerque (N.M.) Technical Vocational Institute explains, “I was out of work for a while, and there was a position at TVI that opened. My doctor said, ‘You need to do something different,’ so I applied.”
Since joining SkillsUSA 18 years ago, Archuleta has connected with his students in ways, well, best described by them. “To the world, he may be one person. To me, he is the world,” says single mother Sharon Gordon, who became the state association’s postsecondary president under Archuleta’s guidance. Adds Robertrey Jaramillo, a father of four who rose to the same office, “Not once has he ever asked me to do anything for him but to not give up, and to honor him, I never will.”
In 2002, Archuleta was diagnosed with cancer. He’s since recovered but admits that he didn’t listen as well to his doctor that time, nor his students: “I guess I should’ve been in the hospital, but to me there was just too much at stake, and I just needed to be helping with the state conference and coordinating that.” Gordon, a former nurse, urged him to stay home and rest, but “SkillsUSA is in my blood and there was just no way,” Archuleta says.
At age 6, Robert Salas was sent to school rather than allowed to attend his father’s funeral. He had negative feelings about education until the fifth grade, when his teacher, Lydia Rodriguez, gave him a few words of encouragement. Now Salas gives what he gained from his teachers pride, enthusiasm, motivation and respect to the next generation in Mission, Texas.
How? Again, with a few words. Take “R.J.,” a new student who’d been labeled a troublemaker. “The very first day, I talked to him,” Salas remembers. “I said, ‘Look, I know you like to wander, skipping classes … but you know what? I want to make a difference. I teach building trades, and this is what we do here. I would like for you to listen to me, and I’ll work with you.’ And let me tell you, that student was completely different.”
Salas’ first teaching job was with the same construction training partnership that helped him during junior high. Then in 1992, he accepted a one-year contract at Sharyland High School, where his program was in danger of being phased out due to low enrollments. After he got his students involved in school and district projects and in SkillsUSA, the program was extended for another year. Thirteen years later, it’s still there, enrollment is high, and his students excel in contests ranging from TeamWorks to Cabinetmaking and Related Technical Math.
Last year, Salas’ students gave back to him when he needed it most. They were getting ready for the district championships when word came that his daughter was in the hospital. She died the next day.
“I went to school that day just to let them know and that we were going to compete that week,” Salas remembers. His students told him not to worry; they’d be fine without him. But “I had a special ed student that said, ‘Sir, I want you to come Saturday to see us,’” he adds. “I buried my daughter on Friday. Saturday, I went to their competition, to the awards. [The student] came to me and told me, ‘Sir, I’m glad you’re here. I’m sorry about your daughter, but you have a lot of students here. You have a lot of kids at school.’ … “I was there, always, for my daughter and for my students as well,” he adds. “So it’s my students that keep me going.”
SkillsUSA Champions | Spring 2006 | Volume 40, No. 3