Flores first started teaching at Waite in 1999. Through a series of other’s missteps and his misfortune—mainly involving union teacher bumping rights—Flores found himself moved to temporary teaching assignments at other schools and eventually laid off, forced from the classroom altogether last year.
“It was a domino effect,” he said. “And I was the last domino to fall.”
While he waited for another Toledo Public Schools teaching assignment to open up, Flores spent several months as the Upward Bound academic skills coordinator at Lourdes University, continuing much of the mentoring work he did there as a volunteer. He’ll continue to tutor and work with students in that program, as well as advise the Latino Student Union on campus. In fact, Flores and his Upward Bound students volunteered this past weekend for a diabetes walk at Ottawa Park.
Upward Bound provides support to high school students from low-income families in their preparation for college entrance. In many cases, the students are the first in their families to attend college. The ultimate goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of higher education.
“First and foremost, I’m an educator before I’m a Spanish teacher. When you look at it from that standpoint, I look at my purpose as educator not just teaching Spanish, but to help my students grow holistically,” he said. “From a community service standpoint, to grow as people, have heightened expectations of what they can do in life in terms of pursuing a higher education. I’m going to do everything I can to facilitate that, whether that’s taking them to college fairs or community service projects on the weekends.”
While Flores believes in helping all students, Latino kids tend to especially gravitate toward him as a mentor and role model. The 37-year old single father always has related well to teens.
“I think over the years, being one of the only Latino teachers there, being a Latino male, students are looking for that support,” he said.
“I do advise a Spanish club that is a diverse club in general. But when it comes to the Latino cause at Waite, I’m generally the person who facilitates whatever it is—a field trip or a Cinco de Mayo program. Of course I do have help from other teachers who we work together to make sure things are happening. I don’t turn away any student who wants or seeks help. But I’m definitely an advocate for Latino students at Waite,” Flores added.
The Waite Spanish teacher has been at the high school just long enough to now be ingrained as a part of many Latino families in East Toledo.
“I’ve taught whole groups of siblings. I had the oldest sibling in the earliest part of my career and now I have the babies 10, 11 years later,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been an awesome experience. I’ve gotten to know families—and of course, with Latino culture, it’s all about the family. I’ve gotten to know parents, I go to quinceañeras all the time for my students and graduation parties and incorporate my daughter into that.”
That same sense of family led Flores to reluctantly resign from Lourdes University when TPS called him back to work. He had to think about providing for his daughter Paula, now in the fifth grade. But he had warned Lourdes when hired that his layoff status may only be temporary.
“Based on the fact of what had happened at TPS before, but you have to do what’s best for your family and ultimately, in the classroom is where I belong,” he said. “It was somewhat of a no-brainer to come back, especially given the fact I was going to be able to return to Waite.”
Flores is well-known in the community for helping with virtually every Latino cause, agency, and organization. But he openly admits “taking a step back” last year so he could finish a Master’s degree at Bowling Green State University and be more active with his daughter and her sports activities. Flores did his undergraduate work at the University of Toledo.
“Sometimes saying ‘no’ to others is saying ‘yes’ to yourself and your family,” he said.
But Flores will still be visible “among our staples,” as he put it. He’ll continue to volunteer at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center for the Día de los Muertos celebration (Nov. 3) and helped with the recent Barrio Latino Art Festival (Sept. 22, 2012).