José Farinas - Secondary English
If the parents of one of his students were never around, José Farinas would go to the student's theatrical performance, basketball game or tennis tournament and cheer them on. Farinas, who taught junior high English for nearly a decade, learned the value of such compassion at Southeastern University.
Southeastern's professors made Farinas feel like he could make it. Although he worked nights to attend college by day and lived off of canned dumplings heated beneath a faucet, his professors saw past his struggles to his potential. Farinas says the compassion Southeastern professors showed was part of their "wounded healer" approach to leadership. A wounded healer leads as a fellow laborer who concedes to having made mistakes in life. This leadership style helps those who are being led realize that their leader-or teacher-shares their flaws yet perseveres and has lessons to impart. Former Southeastern English professors L. Percival Breusch and Dr. James West, and current Language Professor Irvin Ziemann shared their experiences with students. And when the professors heard what students had to say about whatever they were studying, the professors didn't make them feel that they had so much more to learn. "They made you feel that what you said had value," Farinas said.
In addition to caring professors, Southeastern helped Farinas develop skills and wide-ranging interests that equipped him to teach English to 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds. Professors Ziemann, Breusch and West helped Farinas improve his writing, an indispensable skill for an English teacher and an asset in jobs he'd later hold. While other English professors only may have written "awk" on his papers-meaning that phrasing he used was grammatically awkward-Breusch, West and Ziemann would explain why wording didn't work. Another class, debate, trained Farinas to study different points of view. This ability is particularly useful in Farinas' current job as director of employee relations for the Polk County School Board; Farinas negotiates contracts and arranges counseling for workers at risk of dismissal.
Farinas participated in extra-curricular activities at Southeastern that further sharpened his critical thinking, gave him public speaking practice and prepared him to engage students. Farinas' work for Southeastern's student newspaper gave him experience exploring different sides of public issues. He also acted in dramas and played trumpet at chapel. Farinas, who is Cuban, also served in the youth ministry at a Spanish-speaking church while he attended Southeastern. Ministry and theater conditioned Farinas to speaking in front of audiences while his experience as a musician was part of the toolbox with which he impressed middle school-aged children. "You want the students to see you as well-rounded," Farinas said.
After he graduated from Southeastern with a degree in English education in 1980, Farinas taught seventh-grade for seven years and eighth-grade for one year at Lakeland Highlands Junior High School in Lakeland. Farinas transformed subjects that could have been boring, such as diagramming sentences, into interesting projects. Farinas had students diagram sentences using paint, colored pencils and other art materials. That project improved students' grammar and their writing, Farinas said. To stoke students' interest in plays and other literature, Farinas organized annual fieldtrips to New York City or Washington, D.C. where students saw Broadway plays and visited museums. He then created writing assignments in which students drew upon what they saw on the trips. Farinas received the Teacher of the Year award at Lakeland Highlands Junior High School in 1987. He later served the Polk County School Board in other roles, including as Assistant Principal at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland. Farinas earned a master's degree in educational leadership from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1992.