Story and photos by: Ricky J. Carrasco
Expectations. In Loretta Padilla’s life, expectations have served a central, yet not overwhelming role. When people meet Loretta, a 7th grade English teacher at Riverside Middle School, people might not expect her to also be a biker. She herself did not expect to be a teacher, at first. But now that she is, like any good teacher, the expectations she has for her students is what drives her classroom. Her expectations for herself as an independent, strong professional drives her to improve. She is currently the Teacher of the Year for Riverside Middle.
Loretta Padilla fits a certain mold of teachers. She walks into our interview tall, proud and confident, good characteristics to have when teaching classrooms full of 12 and 13 year olds too used to constant sensory overload. “I was in social work before, but eventually I wanted to do something different. My family has many educators. Education has a strong foundation in my family. Everybody in my family graduated from college so I HAD to. It was just expected.”
Loretta, a single mother of a pre-med college student, has taught for 8 years, all at her old alma mater of Riverside Middle School. Her family home is only blocks away from her campus. She feels that’s an important tool to reach her students. “I get stuff like, ‘Ms., I’m never going to pass this test. I’m never going to do well’, and it’s frustrating for me to hear that negativity. I feed them positivity all day every day. I tell them that I grew up in these streets. You are sitting in the same chairs I used to sit. I came from where you live. I know the pressure of living in the barrio. I wasn’t satisfied and you shouldn’t be either. The decisions you make today are going to put you where you want to be tomorrow.”
Padilla now teaches in the classroom where she was taught science when she was in her early teens. When asked if she likes what she does now for a living, she responds with an easy smile, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I like the classroom, but you do have to have Teflon skin. You are being a teacher and, in a way, also an additional parent and a cheerleader to the kids.” When asked what a difficult part of her day is, she responded, “Teaching them respect. Many of the kids have lost that idea. A big part of my day is teaching them respect for self and others. I also have to find ways to get their attention. It really is entertaining kids while I educate them. I have to compete against electronics, social media, video games, so I have to constantly find new ways to catch their attention. But I want them to have fun. I want them to want to come to my class.”
Education is her profession, but riding her bike is what takes Loretta away from everything else, something that her own family did not expect from her. “I used to ride a Ninja sport bike, but then I treated myself to my Harley, a 2007 Deluxe that I named ‘Lynn’ after an old nickname of mine (Loretta Lynn). When I first began riding, I hid the bike from my dad for two years because he certainly would not have expected it!”
To her, the bike is her escape. It’s her way of retreating into herself when she needs to ponder life’s decisions, large and small. “That is my church. That is where I talk to God. I make my decisions. I talk to my mother in heaven. When I need church, as we all do, I get on my bike, head up Montana and just go straight out the Guadalupe Mountains. It’s just a two lane highway and I wind up by the salt flats. I climb on to the bike when I’m bored, when I’m happy, when I’m sad.”
“Sometimes, I don’t let anybody know when and where I’m going. I just fill up my tank, put my iPod on shuffle, and go. I ask questions when I’m on the road…. to God, to myself, and when I get answers, it brings a peace that I’ve made the right choices.”
When asked if she can recall a specific time when the road trip solved a problem, she took her time and got lost in thought for a few moments. “Once, I made the realization that I was going to be by myself and I was also going to be just as fulfilled as any other woman. I know, or rather, I had to realize for myself, that I AM strong, I have a good career, and I can do whatever I want or need to. I know I’m going to make mistakes and, more than that, I can anticipate that I will learn from those and move on.”
There are the expectations of society at large for a modern, professional woman, and frequently now for Loretta, those include a big Harley rumbling down the road. “My friends who don’t ride, they’re proud of me. My students think it’s cool (she rides to work whenever she can) and like I said before, if I can catch their attention, that’s a good thing! When people first meet me, they don’t expect me to be a biker. But I tell them it’s just like any other thing. It’s just a mode of transportation.”
Finally, she shared this story since I used to teach English as well, but it shows that, to a good teacher, anything can be a teaching lesson. “I was riding down Montwood once. This big black truck comes along and almost ran me off the road! We both ended up stopping and the driver got off to apologize. I realized that it was this clean cut guy in a black Harley t-shirt, driving a Harley Edition Ford F150 that had two huge HD stickers on the back windows. I tried so hard not to laugh because all I could think of was that I could use THIS to teach “irony” and a lesson on “figurative language”.