Representation inspired Zelaya’s work in education

Zelaya appreciates that each student is able to bring unique personalities to the classroom.

You may have seen the friendly face of Geraldo Zelaya, an ARHS building substitute, in one of your classes over the last year and a half. Zelaya said he loves working at ARHS and “admires the individuality of ARHS students.” 

Zelaya grew up in Southern California, in Santa Ana. “I grew up in the hood,” he said, where he had his first Latina teacher in 12th grade. “Before that, I felt my teachers never understood our lives,” he said. This representation inspired him to pursue education because of how important it is for students to see teachers that look like them. 

Zelaya comes from an immigrant family; his parents moved to the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s. His parents were unable to attend school because they needed to care for their family. His father digs holes and builds trenches for a living, while his mother cleans houses for a living. 

“My parents keep to themselves, are very persistent, and are the most humble people you’ll ever meet,” said Zelaya. 

Zelaya eventually found his way to UMass, where he finished his master’s degree in ESL education. Before that, he taught math to 4th and 5th graders, and he also taught math to high school students in Holyoke. At ARHS, he subbed for Spanish teacher Mari Vicente when she was on leave.

Zelaya feels he can be himself while doing his job which has come to be something he feels strongly about. “I want to avoid being a boring teacher, and I want the students to see that, although you might have life barriers and obstacles, with perseverance and persistence you can be in my position.” 

He wants to incorporate the new technology. “There’s different ways to learn, and we should use the new resources we have for that purpose.” 

Zelaya has noticed that all of the students at ARHS seem to have a teacher they can go to when they need to vent or talk to someone. And he appreciated how each student brings something unique to the classroom in terms of perspective and personality. “They’re definitely allowed to be themselves without restrictions, which is wonderful to see,” he said.

That said, Zelaya still sees a lack of diversity as a big challenge at ARHS; he acknowledges that the school preaches diversity but wonders, “How many teachers look like me?”

Zelaya occasionally enjoys doing “absolutely nothing” and simply relaxing. He loves listening to soul music and researching the history of underrepresented and marginalized communities. He also enjoys bird watching and gardening. “I love flowers,” he said. “It has a lot to do with my upbringing.” Zelaya even occasionally enters gardening competitions.