For some art is life, this is the case of Juan Pérez, 45, art teacher in the specialized school in science and math in Mayagüez, CROEM. Teaching here since 1995, Pérez has encountered the difficulties of being an art teacher.
It is 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 10 and Juan and I are meeting at Wendy’s of Mayagüez Mall to talk about the story of his life. There is tolerably loud music in the background and the temperature is cold. Juan Pérez, 45, now starting to age, is a creative and hardworking man whose life revolves around art. Since he was a little kid, he always had a big interest for art and his parents, especially his mom, noticed it. Dinorah, Juan Perez’s mother, would buy him Disney curtains for his room and Juan would just sit there and draw all the animated cartoons these held.
His parents guided him through a Christian path where he developed as an artist. “When I was about 16, 17 and 18 I used to help abused children express themselves through paper.” he said.
“During high school I used to be in all advanced classes, I had a good GPA and could go to college wherever I wanted” he thought for a moment he wanted to be an engineer and he was going to go further, but he realized that wasn’t what he was passionate about. Juan enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and started his bachelor’s degree in plastic arts. His parents, like many, at first instance disagreed, but later on they got used to the idea of having a son who would become an artist. Juan had great visions and future goals to achieve, but never did he expect to become a teacher. “You can ask my colleagues, every time they asked me if I was going to be a teacher, I always said, “You’re crazy, no,”.
After graduating from the UPRM he went to work in the press and printing industry. Then “you fall in love and some things change.” Ironically in 1995 Juan arrives at CROEM. “I knew I had to do something more, I got bored of being inside four walls and just went for it.” It was going to be a new adventure.
Now, 20 years later, he is still a teacher. Every student who is molded by him will definitely grow and climb one more step toward becoming an integral individual. Unfortunately, he feels not everyone sees or appreciates his contribution and effort in the preparation of a complete student. For Juan Pérez one of the biggest obstacles to overcome being an art teacher is the bureaucratic system that maintains the Department of Education.
“If you work for the Department of Education, you have to work alone.” The DE was founded April 12, 1990 with the goal of making better standards of education. Presently, there are no funds and barely any support for art majored teachers. “They only provide markers, pens and paper, if you’re lucky” said Juan. Teachers who offer art class have to invest a lot of their money and ask students to supply their own items. “The only way the DE pays attention to individual needs of different schools is when as a whole the school captures the media’s attention. Once you have the press’s attention, they pretend to care and help will arrive in some cases. Puerto Rico and the government trembles upon this.”
Being an art teacher in an ordinary school is very different from being an art teacher in CROEM. Since this school is specialized in science and math the feeling of exclusion is even worse. The administration personal of the school is ignorant of the art field. Art as a class takes time and students have to put themselves in it to reach it. Juan has witnessed students spending time talking about their plans for the art assignment given and planning their ideas in other classrooms leading to a possible jealousy toward art class.
Art has many stages and divisions, and “I am capable of teaching them all,” said Juan. “Most teachers only offer one or two classes while as an art teacher I can offer not only classes but personal admiration and satisfaction with a person’s self.”
Art can create sensible, integral, touristic, and complete people. “I would like for a time to come where all classes would be given the same importance.” All classes should interlock together; in the end they all make us better integrated individuals. “In education there is profit.” Everything that comprehends art enriches us as a whole.
Juan tells me that dealing with this amount of stress and pressure is not easy for anyone. In the beginning of his career stress and pressure affected directly his emotional and physical state. In 2005 he got sick and suffered from a cardia ulcer which made him loose a great amount of weight. Today he just takes everything slower and at his pace. “I really don’t care what my fellow colleagues may think because in the end the fruit speaks by itself.”