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Denair teacher uses past experiences and a giant snake to connect with students
denair teacher pic1
David Rodriguez poses with Kachoppa, his female Columbian red-tail boa constrictor. According to the teacher, Kachoppa helps him explain to his students about a snakes shedding process and eating habits. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Denair Middle School educator David Rodriguez attributes a number of experiences to his mindset as a teacher today. 

One experience that sticks out above the rest, however, is Rodriguez’s experience with a particular teacher during his third grade year.

“This teacher didn’t think I had a lot of potential, not that she came out and said it, but just the way I was treated,” recalls Rodriguez. “I don’t really fault her, though, because at the time some of those teachers didn’t know what to do with students who didn’t speak English.”

As the only Hispanic kid in the entire school, Rodriguez was ostracized to the back of the classroom with only a pair of headphones.

One day in class, Rodriguez remembers the teacher calling him a “turtle” in front of his classmates, thinking that he could not understand what she said. In response, Rodriguez dropped a terrarium on her foot, ultimately breaking her toe.

It was not until the meeting that took place after the incident that the teacher found out that Rodriguez could speak both English and Spanish.

“That meeting kind of opened up eyes for everybody, even the principal. Things started to change,” reported Rodriguez.

That was the last year he spent at that particular school. The following year, he attended Ivanhoe School, where teachers were used to dealing with Spanish speaking students. Rodriguez recalls the joy he felt when he was finally made part of his class.

From then on, Rodriguez was met with a number of influential individuals, one of which was his fifth grade teacher. His teacher, who was Armenian and therefore understood the difficulties faced by second language students, was the first educator he recalls as recognizing and embracing his eagerness to learn.

“These are the little things that as adults we don’t think kids pick up on,” said Rodriguez. “All of these little experiences kind of tie in to why I wanted to become a teacher. I just want to make a difference for one of the students.”

Now, as a sixth grade teacher, Rodriguez aspires to be the opposite of his third grade teacher who did not believe in him all those years ago. He hopes that the students will look back on life lessons like he did in order to become good citizens in the community.

To motivate students, Rodriguez utilizes the help of Kachoppa, a six-and-a-half foot boa constrictor. According to Rodriguez, the snake helps him teach students about its shedding process, eating habits, and physiology.

Additionally, and with a signed permission slip, Rodriguez invites students to watch her during feeding time.

“They’re always so curious about how she eats big rats with such a small mouth,” reported Rodriguez. “We always have a packed house in here.”

At the end of the day, the teacher relishes in the moments where his students finally understand a concept, as well as the way he encourages them to engage in conversations that they originally would not otherwise think about.

“We get them into a lot of topics that they didn’t know about, like global warming and renewable energy. We’re encouraging them to questions things and finding their own answers. That’s what I want and it is an aspect of teaching that I love.”