Rafael Oropeza

Before working for SJVC, Rafael had never really considered teaching, but his students are glad he finally did.

Rafael Oropeza never had a lifelong plan to become a teacher. Maybe that is why his style as an educator is so elastic, and stretches to meet the individual needs of his Business Administration and General Ed students at the Temecula campus.

“I’m constantly changing my teaching style, depending on the type of students I have and their needs,” says Oropeza. “Some need a lot of structure, some more group or individual work, and others more ‘clicker’ activities, where they clicker-vote on the correct answer to a multiple choice question on the board, and we discuss them until all votes are correct.”

Rafael’s objective is to instill enough confidence in his students and in their own abilities, that he can step to the side and allow them to depend on their new-found problem-solving skills.

“I want them to be in charge of their own learning and to have faith in themselves,” says Oropeza, who encounters a lot of students with ‘math anxiety’. “I get excited when they get the answers on their own, without me walking them through it.”

Whatever his teaching style, it seems to be working very well. Students voted for Rafael to receive the Apple Award last September that recognized extraordinary instructor effort above and beyond already high expectations.

“It is not a surprise the students respond well to Mr. O, as they refer to him around campus,” says Robyn Whiles, Campus Director. “There is not a Friday that goes by that you do not find Mr. O in the SC, tutoring math students. He continually changes classroom teaching strategies, looking for small measures of improvement. He has passion for students, strives to make a difference, and always gives the extra effort needed.”

Rafael is plugged into his students’ success and does all he can to help guide them in that direction. During his five-plus years on campus, he has been an ASB and SIFE advisor.

It is hard to imagine that a career in education was not on his radar until seeking a position at SJVC. He was, however, always involved in helping others while he was getting his B.A. degree at Cal State San Bernardino in 2008. Rafael volunteered with a literacy program at a local public library, helping Spanish-speaking people struggling with English.

“That experience and the reward I felt helping them better themselves, gave me an interest in education,” he says.

It has been the right move for him and has brought many rewards.

“There are lots of little moments that stand out,” says Rafael. “A student came up to me recently and said, ‘I just want to let you know that this is the highest grade I’ve ever gotten on a math quiz,’” he says. “It’s the little things students say that let me know it is worth it.”

Sometimes it is not the student’s words, but their personal transformation that shows the impact education can have on confidence levels.

“There was a student I had in every Business class,” says Oropeza. “He hardly interacted with teachers or students at all; just kept to himself. By the end of it, he was totally outgoing, very funny and engaging with others and had total confidence in just being himself.”

These are the stories and life-changes that affirm Rafael’s commitment to teach.

“First and foremost I want my students to be able to function professionally in the workforce,” says Rafael. “I want them to be able to think about problems and come up with logical steps to solve them. That goes for life, as well as problems at work.”

Rafael hopes to take his success as an educator to an even higher level.

“I would like to eventually move to a Division Manager or other management role to be able to impact the program even more and contribute more to what the organization is doing for the students,” he says.

Rafael keeps all things in balance and perspective with words of encouragement he pulls from comedian Bill Hicks. “It’s just a ride,” Hicks says. “What it means,” says Rafael, “is that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, but take life as it happens and just go with it. It’s always a choice between fear and love…and what are you going to choose.”

Rafael makes his choices pretty clear.