Carlos Pezua: Maestro

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Photo: Billy Hunt Photo: Billy Hunt

“I was working as a substitute teacher in an eighth grade science class while I was also taking my medical school prerequisites at UVA. There was no lesson plan for class one day, so I looked out the window to see if I could find a science project for us to do. And I said ‘O.K., right there. Why are the flowers under that drain spout bigger than the other flowers?’ When I saw the kids picking things up and sniffing things, I thought, this could be my job. I could teach.”

That’s local educator Carlos Pezua on his first “Eureka!” moment. His life, at least in retrospect, has always been that way—a series of “Eureka!” moments leading him to one outcome: teaching.

His first one came at age 13 when, as a forward-looking junior high school student, Pezua toured the Bay Area with his parents. “We went to the [University of California] Berkeley campus, and the vibe of the place was so great I told my folks that that’s where I wanted to go to college,” he said.

The son of a physician in the U.S. Army, Pezua grew up on military installations around the world, from Germany to Panama to Korea and finally Northern Virginia for high school, before earning a scholarship to attend UC-Berkeley.

Once at Berkeley, however, the call of San Francisco’s smorgasbord of social and cultural indulgences, more often than not, was too much for Pezua to resist. He lasted only a semester at Berkeley, and spent the next semester in the city, hip-deep in the music and party scene and loving every minute of it.

When he returned east, he eventually got on a clear path to commencement and earned a degree in politics from UVA. He went to work in Washington, D.C., as staff assistant for Senator Chuck Robb. It was during this episode when he met with another “Eureka!” moment: “It was the autopen,” said Pezua.

One of Pezua’s duties as a senate staffer was to write responses to Senator Robb’s mail and then set an autopen, a device that mechanically replicated the senator’s signature, to sign the letter. He’d then mail it off as though the senator himself had taken the time to address his constituent’s concerns.

“I was standing on my rooftop with my friend one night looking out over the city and I said, ‘There’s got to be more than this. This isn’t enough.’”

So Pezua set off with a friend for Arizona, where he worked as a backcountry ranger for the Park Service at Coconino National Forest. He cruised the Arizona wilderness for a little less than a year then he was back at UVA, where he realized that teaching had been his calling all along.

Pezua was fluent in Spanish, so it was only natural that he would teach the language, which he did for Albemarle County schools for nine years, earning him the Golden Apple Award for best teacher at Murray High School in 2008.

Pezua is no longer in the public school system, but teaches privately, both one-on-one and group sessions. This summer he offered a class upstairs from Mudhouse on the Downtown Mall.

“I’m not so much teaching as learning. I am like a prism,” said Pezua. “I’m breaking down Spanish knowledge and the students are the ones who see the colors. I’m channelling more than anything. When I am teaching someone the Spanish verbs and they finally get it and have that break through and they feel it and I feel it, it’s invigorating. When they get it, it’s an epistemological unlocking. I’m moved by—I’m compelled by the experience.”

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