High school dropout to high school teacher

How a SHS teacher went from being a dropout in high school to teaching high school students English and life lessons


Rebecca Wright

SHS English teacher Rico Gonzales teaches during class. Gonzales himself was a high school droput. However, after seeing what college was like one day, his passion to learn was ignited and he returned to school. Eventually, he got degrees in journalism as well as teaching.

Rebecca Wright, Reporter

Rico Gonzalez was content working at a bowling alley. He made enough to live comfortably and wasn’t worried about never completing high school. All of that changed when a friend of his took him to a bring-a-friend-day at her college, and he suddenly thought to himself, “I have been in the wrong place for a long time.”

“(The students) were all there because they all wanted to be there,” Gonzalez said. “They weren’t there because their mom woke them up at six in the morning.”

He was struck by how attentive the students were and how the class was more of a conversation than a lecture. He liked that all of the students were there because they chose to be, and he gravitated toward a self-propelled education. This led Gonzalez to want to go back to school and earn a degree.

When he was younger, Gonzalez had started falling behind around middle school and eventually dropped out of school when he was 16-years-old. He says that he couldn’t figure out how to “play the game,” and his grades only became worse and worse.

“It’s about finding that moment,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a thing that just happens in your head, when you realize, ‘There really is something that I really want to get out of life.’”

The trip to his friend’s college was a turning point for him. He signed up for college two months later, after racing through his remaining high school education. However, Gonzalez says that he retained nothing from those two months, and he was in college with an eighth or ninth grade education.

“Eventually, the realization that I needed to get an education just clicked,” Gonzalez said.

While in college, Gonzalez took longer than the traditional four years to get his bachelor’s degree. He says he wanted to go on trips and join clubs and really experience college.

According to Gonzalez, he barely met the requirements to get the degree in English. He had initially planned on being a journalist, but soon after graduating learned that he didn’t have the years of experience most places wanted. After returning to college to boost his GPA, he decided to become a teacher.

Principal Brian Knight thinks that Gonzalez’s experiences will benefit students because he felt many of the things that some students may be feeling now. Some students may feel that they too may want to drop out, which is a feeling most teachers at SHS cannot relate to.

“Having an adult here who has been through some of that can help a student make better choices,” Knight said, “or at least understand and empathize with that student. It’s definitely something different than what we already have.”

Gonzalez feels that having the background of being a high school dropout helps his “street cred” as an educator.  He likes that it interests people he tells because then he can explain the struggles he went through to get to where he is now. He then translates his experiences into the classroom.

“(My students are) doing things that I did as a college student, and I’m having them do it in high school,” Gonzalez said. “I did it with an eighth grade education and I got through it and because of my experiences, I learned how to learn at a higher level and I learned how to teach at a higher level.”

Gonzalez believes that him dropping out and struggling through school serves as an example to his students. He feels it shows that it is okay to stumble while trying to get to where they want to go, and it’s not the end of the world to struggle a bit.