By Megan Perry
Long-time English professor Stanley Oropesa is planning to retire from East Los Angeles College this semester and travel to Eastern Europe.
He will be coming back on a part-time basis and is set to teach one or two classes in the spring of next year. “I’m ready to teach two (classes) in the spring, but I’d like to take a semester off to just have some fun and travel,” Oropesa said.
Along with traveling, Oropesa also plans to get back into practicing his accordion and cage fighting skills, as he said. He is also thinking of possibly starting a philosophical discussion group of his own. He enjoys attending discussion groups dealing with classical philosophy, and feels it would be nice to start one of his own after he retires.
Oropesa doesn’t know how long he will teach part-time, but he said he’ll give it a try. He said jokingly that he plans to stay busy in order to keep himself off of the streets and out of trouble. He began his teaching career at ELAC 35 years ago, where he grew to love the campus.
Oropesa likes the challenge of taking students who have never been asked to read Shakespeare or Plato or John Milton or Homer and putting the great texts before them. “I think ELAC and I were a good match,” Oropesa said. He said that anyone could teach at a Cal State or a private university where students are able to handle the toughest work given to them.
He found that he liked the challenge of putting difficult texts before community college students to challenge and open their minds. “I find that the students at ELAC are by and large open-minded, warm, hospitable and curious people. Although they haven’t received the best high school education, they are curious to learn different things and have their minds opened. It’s been a challenge,” Oropesa said.
In his years at ELAC, Oropesa has created a bond with his students. “It’s nice to feel that you’re able to connect with the students on many levels, and certainly the student body here have always been outgoing and respectful toward teachers. It’s a very unique school. I have friends who teach elsewhere and it’s not always that case,” Oropesa said.
He said one of his regrets is not being able to fight more against the move to online classes, because online classes are a diminished way of teaching. “Teaching is more than just conveying information, it’s how you convey it and how you create a zone in the classroom where you can have vital conversation about what you’re learning,” Oropesa said.
He said that the fact is that the city and the state do not care about learning at this school. “The arguments put forward to justify online learning are frankly, frighteningly, very, very weak and not worthy of anybody with any intellect. It bothers me terribly, as I leave, that more teachers don’t have the courage to speak out against this. Teachers should be ashamed to jump on the band wagon,” Oropesa said.
He said teachers who teach online have absolutely no concern whether cheating is going on or not. According to Oropesa, online teachers basically have a two-day workweek and it is a self-serving issue. “Students tell me there’s rampant cheating and since America has always been a very anti-intellectual country, it just fits into the district we have for important learning. If people were to go anywhere else in Los Angeles, they would notice they have far better surroundings than that of ELAC. It has been 50 years, and ELAC still hasn’t done much building and teachers are still living, teaching out of temporary bungalows,” Oropesa said.
Although he has some negative feelings toward ELAC’s move to online learning, some of Oropesa’s best memories are when he finds out that his students have made it to a university.“I have had so many students over the years tell me that (they made it to a university) and then there was the hundred dollar bribe (that helped students pass),” he joked.
Oropesa is a teacher who loves to challenge his students along with himself, to make things more interesting and to expand and explore one’s way of thinking. He said he had a student, who after reading Dante in a humanities class, went out and bought the entire volume, which he said is one of his nicest memories.
“I’m always disappointed when instructors don’t challenge their students with themes that are outside of the box. I think our students are probably tired of reading ethnic issues dealing with ethnicity and race because they get old fast and are often just trafficking in cliches. I like to avoid that and go toward issues that are more metaphysical,” Oropesa said.
He said that the challenging texts benefit the students, and he can see that in the students writing at the end of the semester. Oropesa has been a sort of mentor for some teachers in the English department, such as Joan Gurfield. Gurfield said she has only ever sat in on a couple of his classes, but she found them extremely engaging.
“They were very well structured and very well thought out,” Gurfield said. They were not only colleagues at work, but personal friends in the world. Gurfield remembers a time when Oropesa, she and a few other friends went and spent the weekend in San Luis Obispo. She said that he introduced her to a beautiful park called Gold Mountain, or Montaña de Oro.
“It’s one of the most amazing places in California that I’ve seen. So, I had a great weekend and I always thanked him for that,” Gurfield said. Gurfield said that he has been a force in the department that has kept the teachers on track and kept them up to high standards.
He wouldn’t let anybody, whether it be his friends or people he doesn’t get along with, be lazy or get away with stuff, which Gurfield said she found admirable. “Of course I’ll miss it, but I hope to always be a part of it in some way by coming back and teaching part time,” Oropesa said.