In the Shadows of the Maestros

Museo_del_Prado_(Madrid)_04

By Bill Waychunas

Today, I stood and waited in a line to get free entrance into The Prado art museum in Madrid, Spain. While everyone enjoys getting something for free, two things I generally try to avoid at all costs are waiting in long lines and art museums, especially modern art museums. Plus, it was HOT outside, like melt your flip-flop on the asphalt type of heat.

When I first spotted the length of the line, winding around the sidewalk and gardens outside of the Prado, the thought of turning around and going home popped into my mind. I decided to stay. Despite all the reasons I had to turn and run, I couldn’t help but feel an excitement come over me as I slid into my spot at the end of the line.

Everyone in line slowly shuffled forward, audibly groaning when the movement in the line paused and they found themselves in a spot on the sidewalk unprotected from the blazing-hot afternoon sun. At one such moment, I longingly looked behind me at the shade I had just left, trying to reconcile my conflicting desires for shade and progress towards the entrance.

My eyes followed the shadow across the sidewalk. As I glanced upward at its source, I came to the sudden realizations that I’d been standing under a statue of one of the Spanish masters (or maestros) in this case, Velasquez. A few more minutes of shuffling forward in line and I find myself in the shadow of another maestro. This time it’s Goya with a healthy smattering of pigeon crap covering his forehead as he gazes over the crowd.

My excitement grew, and I forgot about the line and the heat.

Once inside, I found that walking the gallery was blissful. But why? It wasn’t just because the museum had an excellent air conditioner; my mind drifted to another maestro but not one who’s paintings or sculptures would be found in a museum.

See, in Spanish, the word maestro has multiple meanings. One of the them can mean master, in the case of an expert, usually an artist. The other meaning is teacher, a different type of artist whose works of art are saved for the select few enrolled in their classes. Today I found myself in this museum as a sort of pilgrimage or tribute to one of my high school teachers, Señor Mendoza, my Spanish teacher for two years. He was truly a maestro in both meanings of the word.

In one of his Spanish classes, Señor Mendoza took some time to stray from the typical textbook curriculum and taught us about the most famous Spanish artists, including Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, Dalì, and Picasso. It wasn’t something that I was particularly excited about at first, but the stories he told about the artists lives and their pieces were captivating. He told us about some of the places where such works were housed and here is was, 15 or so years later, standing in the shadow of the maestros.

By my senior year of high school, I had decided that I would major in education in college and pursue a career as a teacher. This was certainly in no small part due to the excellent teachers I had, including Señor Mendoza. In fact, he was such an excellent maestro that I actually considered becoming a Spanish teacher for a short while. Thankfully, for the sake of the children, I choose to focus on social studies instead.

I found out soon after I graduated from high school that Señor Mendoza passed-away after a battle with cancer. I was lucky to have had his classes. More than just the lessons in Spanish and art history, I learned a lot from his teaching example, but in terms of the values and approaches he brought with him to class every day, including:

  • Learning should be fun – If it’s not fun or interesting, then make it fun and interesting. Part of this is remembering to laugh and smile often.
  • Be humble and honest – Admit when you make a mistake, share your personal passions and background with your students, and be able to laugh at yourself. It makes you a human instead of just a teacher.
  • Learning should be an experience – It’s not just about quizzes and tests. Change it up every once in a while. Kids won’t remember that awesome exit ticket you wrote but they will remember the projects they did and how you made them feel in class.  For example: Señor Mendoza would sometimes have us write and perform skits in Spanish using vocabulary from the unit instead of taking a test. I vividly remember playing the role of Señor Mendoza in a classroom scene where some of my friends played the role of students in our class, poking a little bit of good fun at everyone along the way. In fact, when I googled Señor Mendoza’s name, I found this comment on his rate-my-teachers profile which gives me some personal validation on my acting skills: waychunas1
  • Expose students to things outside of their bubbles – Sometimes, there’s value in being “culturally irrelevant” in the classroom and getting students out of their comfort zone. Art is not something that I would have ever been introduced to or would have sought out on my own. My world has been widened by his choice to expose us to that unit as well as some of the fantastic field trips we went on as part of his class, including one where I first tried some of my current favorite foods, tapas and paella.

On my stroll home from the museum, I stopped into a bar for a refreshing cerveza. When the waitress told me that the tap beer was out, she directed me towards their bottle selection. Like a sign from above, the first beer on display was called Maestra. I ordered one and raised my Maestra towards the sky for the maestro.

 

1 Response to “In the Shadows of the Maestros”


  1. 1 billwaychunas August 21, 2018 at 8:48 am

    Reblogged this on Bill Waychunas: My Thoughts and Academic Profile and commented:
    From my recent trip to Europe…a tribute to one of my former teachers!

    Like


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