Classroom by classroom, there lay rows of students, students who are tired and worried about what comes next– this scene is certainly monotonous to some, but to Mrs. Roybal, they are more than just rows of students, they are, “rows of individuals that bring their own personalities and struggles.” For Downey High’s beloved Spanish teacher, Mrs. Roybal, teaching goes beyond content and tests.
At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Roybal along with Mr. Houts believed a large focus needed to be put on the mental and emotional health of students. Mrs. Roybal believes it should not matter whether a class gets behind on content in order to address more important things. She said, “And even, I feel like we are so far behind, but in the, in the really important realm of life. So what? What’s more important is connecting, not just students and teachers and teachers and students and administrators and staff, but one with another as human beings, we are not islands. We need other people.”
Throughout these nearly two years, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been immeasurable, very notably on students who were stripped of a majority of their social interaction and high school experience. Mrs. Roybal used this as a talking point for many of her classes, in order to get them to open up about their feelings and experiences and topics such as anxiety and depression with others who might understand.
However, Mrs. Roybal doesn’t just watch from the sidelines, she said “I share some very vulnerable things at times about my own life to kind of get that started, because if students see me having courage to open up about maybe some personal things, struggles I went through when I was a teenager now, before then maybe they’ll think, oh, you know what? This is a safe place for me to open up.”
And to her, seeing her students having the urge to share and connect with others tells her that, “[her] mission as a teacher is not so much to teach Spanish nor even AP Spanish. It is to help give students the tools to communicate, to be vulnerable when they need to, and once out of the gates of Downey High School, to be productive and happy people.”
Though Mrs. Roybal realizes that opening up isn’t every teacher’s cup of tea, she believes that “if more teachers would open up a dialogue and talk about some of these things, I think students really would be better off.”
Mrs. Roybal has lived quite the life. She has modeled, done business, studied psychology, done musical theater, sang professionally, traveled to over 40 countries, lived in both Spain and London, taught in London, and still sings at her church on the worship team. Roybal did not want to take the orthodox path in life and become tied down so soon. Roybal’s mother became pregnant with her when she was young and was not able to do many of the things she wanted to. So, Mrs. Roybal was “determined” and stated, “I’m not getting married. You know, I’ve kind of avoided all that for a long time. I didn’t want to have children until I didn’t even start thinking about 35.” She wanted to do all the things her mother, her best friend, did not get to do.
Though she has not gone without mistakes or suffering at the hand of others’ betrayal, it has made her stronger. Throughout her life she has learned that “[you must] be your authentic version of who you are. Do not try to be somebody else for anybody. Try not-to be a different person—the person you think that person, your life wants you to be, be yourself, have integrity, have your actions and your words line up and always strive.
She believes one must go out of their comfort zone, do things they truly want to do, and live, live to have no regrets. Her final lesson or piece of advice was, “If you want it, go for it. You make a plan and do it.”
Having experienced so much in this hectic world, Mrs. Roybal places a great emphasis on the importance of sharing lessons of life and emotions with others, and because of this she truly embodies all a teacher should be— kind, caring, lively, and utterly enthralled both in her teachings and the lives of the students she teaches. She is the type of teacher whom students are lucky to have.