Barranca Mesa Elementary School teacher Patricia ‘Pat” Jaramillo has retired. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
When Patricia (Pat) Jaramillo was in elementary school she says she had an amazing fifth grade teacher. His name was James H. Rodriguez and there is an elementary school in Espanola Valley named after him. And after spending 40 years as an educator, Jaramillo still says Mr. Rodriguez was the one who instilled in her the desire to become a teacher.
Born in Cordova, Jaramillo said she and her family left there when she was six years old so she went from a very rural school to the “big city” of Espanola and started second grade at Espanola Elementary School. She came from a family of seven children, six girls and a boy, but two or her siblings have since passed away. Her father was from Espanola and her mother was from Cordova. Her mother was an adopted child who had moved from Canjilon to Cordova where she met Jaramillo’s father in high school and fell in love.
“It was also my mother’s dream to become a teacher but I never knew that until years later. She was always very proud of me because I went to college,” Jaramillo said. “She was proud that all my siblings graduated and all of them went in to technical schools or something else and were successful.”
After graduating from Espanola Valley High School in 1974, Jaramillo went to New Mexico State University where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education in winter 1979. When she came back to Espanola, the school district did not have any vacancies for teachers but she was hired to teach sixth grade as a long-term substitute for a teacher who was out on maternity leave from San Juan Elementary School.
Jaramillo had a sister and brother-in-law in Grants where at the time the mines were in full swing so she went there to teach. She had been teaching there for three years when she met her husband Paul.
“At that time if you wanted to do anything, you had to do it during spring break. So during spring break of 1984, I left as Miss Martinez and came back the following week as Mrs. Jaramillo,” she said.
Jaramillo continued to teach in Grants until she had her first child, Paul Junior, in 1987. Then the couple moved to Alamosa, Colorado briefly and her second son, Patrick, was born. In 1988, the Jaramillos moved to Espanola where Pat taught 3-5th grade at Chimayo Elementary school for the next 12 years. She decided she wanted to take a break from teaching for a year however the break didn’t last long. While she was at home relaxing one morning, long-time friend and neighbor, Teresa Martinez, then principal of Los Ninos Kindergarten School called her.
“You’re too good of a teacher to quit,” Martinez told her. “I need you to teach 18 kindergarten students that need a teacher right now. They have been a week without a teacher already. I need you.”
Jaramillo said since teaching was always in her heart, she thought she might give it a try to see if she could do it.
“I asked her, ‘What if I scare them? I could make them cry because I’m a very stern teacher,” Jaramillo said. “And Teresa said, “They’re tougher than what you think.”
At that time, Jaramillo said kindergarten kids had building blocks, centers, housekeeping center, and other “cool stuff”.
“Lo and behold, that was the first year they had a curriculum to teach reading in kindergarten, and they came out with a curriculum to teach math, and handwriting. I just loved it because those kindergarten minds are like sponges. They just bring in everything. They had to be reading by the end of kindergarten,” she said.
She noted that their brains are growing and that she just fell in love with the fact that kids were coming to kindergarten and expecting to leave reading and writing and doing math.
“I loved it because it was possible. I taught kindergarten for 12 years in Espanola and I loved it so much,” Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo was hired in 2012 by former Barranca Mesa Elementary School principal Pam Miller to teach kindergarten because there were 12 students that were extra and the other two kindergarten classes were full.
“Pam hired me on the last day before school started and I taught kindergarten for four years followed by first grade for five years. I taught under three principals – Pam Miller, Brad Parker and then Gina Terrazas,” she said.
Her favorite principal was Brad Parker.
“He knew me well. He was a Christian and he knew I was one also. He knew just by looking at my face if something was going on and he was very supportive. He knew his teachers. He would constantly go into our classrooms to see how everything was going. He was very friendly and the children just loved him,” Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo shed a couple of tears as she discussed her last year of teaching.
“Trying to teach an old dog new tricks nowadays is hard. It’s possible, though, because this old dog learned new tricks like Google Meet during this pandemic. This last year of teaching really has highlighted my ideas about what are we doing to children. In the early 2000s they told us that technology was going to take over education and we all thought it couldn’t be. But it has and children are learning but we’re hurting them,” she said.
Jaramillo said kids need the old traditions.
“This generation thinks it’s all about technology and empowering a child. They have forgotten that when you teach a five-year old child, you need to teach the whole child including emotionally and socially. Yes, academics are very important but you should have seen my students when they came back to school this year. We were all so happy to be in the classroom itself,” she said.
She noted that even when teaching remotely this year, she had to go to her classroom to teach from there.
“I needed my classroom and when my students were on camera and I was they would all get excited to see me there in the classroom. That is so important and they need that,” Jaramillo said.
Something that has been very important to Jaramillo throughout her many years of teaching ha been teaching the children of former students.
“The parents come in and they say, ‘Mrs. Jaramillo, do you remember me? You taught me in third grade and I am so happy that you’re going to teach my child now’. It really puts joy in my heart. Sometimes I would feel too old and ask myself, ‘What am I doing already teaching the second generation?’ but several of my old students came to me and told me I was still a great teacher and that I was one of their favorite teachers when they were in school,” she said.
Jaramillo said it makes her very happy when her former students recognize her. Some of them are doctors, she said. A lot of them are engineers working at Los Alamos National Laboratory and some are firemen. She said there have also been some “casualties” but that having the children of former students from the Espanola Valley in her classes has meant a great deal to her.
Jaramillo said with tears in her eyes that it was hard to walk away.
“I had a very good class this year and last year considering what they went through with the pandemic. It seems like all through the years I’ve always had good classes. The first few months with a class, I would teach them emotionally and get that positivity going. That’s what I loved most about teaching kindergarten – instilling that power to be happy during their education while learning to read, learning math,” she said.
“Si, se pode” was the expression she used when teaching in Spanish and English in Espanola.
“The kids would say, ‘I can’t read, Mrs. Jaramillo’, and I would ask them, ‘What’s that letter up there?’. They would say, ‘That’s a J’, and I would tell them, ‘You can read. You’re a reader. We’re going to read letters and then we’re going to put them together and make words, and then we’re going to put the words together. I think that’s why I really enjoyed teaching kindergarten. It was great,” Jaramillo said.
She said that’s what she’s going to miss – being positive with her students and helping them to love to learn.
“But if I ever need to, I’ll go back,” she said.