By Terry Dean
Editor's note: This is the second of three profiles on this year's Golden Apple nominees from OPRF and Fenwick high schools. Read the first profile of the series here.
Maybe the third time will be the charm for Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher Manuel Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who teaches Spanish, learned last month that he's among the 32 finalists for the Golden Apple award honoring outstanding Chicago area teachers. This is the second time he's been nominated. Nominations are done anonymously, but Gonzalez is happy someone thought of him. The 10 winners will be announced next month by the Golden Apple Foundation. Two other Oak Park teachers are finalists, Allison Hennings, who also teaches at OPRF, and John Paulett, who teaches at Fenwick High School.
Gonzalez has taught at OPRF for 11 years, and prior to that taught in the Chicago Public Schools for five years. He was recruited by OPRF while at CPS.
"I was offered a job and came in for an interview. Once I got here I fell in love with the school and community," he said. "I was impressed with the school and the people. A school system that paid that much attention to what's going on in another district showed me that this school was serious about recruiting quality teachers."
Originally from Spain, Gonzalez came to the U.S. 20 years ago. His stay at first was going to be temporary but ended up being permanent. Gonzalez says he always wanted to be a teacher. Among his eight siblings, two are teachers.
Family is important to Gonzalez, so much so that he sees his classroom as one big "familia."
"I tell them, we are a familia," he said. "I like to get to know the kids as a person. I want to have an honest and open classroom environment. It's important to open up lines of communication with kids. I open up about myself. I had to learn a different language. Speaking a foreign language puts them on the spot, but I tell them it's OK to take a chance and step outside of yourself."
A married father of two, including an OPRF freshman, Gonzalez tells his students about growing up in Spain. A native of Granada, he gets the chance to go back to Spain every summer with his wife and kids. Some of his students over the years have been able to travel to Spain and come back to share that experience with him. Wanting to share his culture with others helped inspire him to become a teacher.
"Spain is rich in history and tradition. The chance to share that with young people was a big interest to me," Gonzalez said.