|Hernandez-Chiroldes Retires from 31 Years of Practicing "Teaching as Generosity"
May 26, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
|Students characterize classes with Prof. Hernandez-Chiroldes as "fun and full of laughter and enthusiasm."
Alberto Hernandez-Chiroldes pulls one of many weathered-looking grade books from a drawer in his office. Flipping through the pages crowded with penciled names and scores, he notes proudly that he still has every grade book for every class he has taught in his 31 years on the Spanish faculty. "There's a certain pleasure in entering a grade by hand," he said.
As further evidence of a focus on students that has made him a favorite Davidson teacher, he has also collected every annual freshman face book and marked in them all the students who took his classes.
He credits his good relations with students to early role models. "When I arrived from Holy Cross I found professors here like Charlie Lloyd, Sam Maloney, Gill Holland, and George Labban taking tremendous interest in their students. They were my examples," he said. "There was a clear idea of our mission. Certainly we did research and published, but our job was students. Someone once asked Gill Holland how he had time to do his job when he was always talking to students. Gill replied, ‘That is my real job,' and that's the way I've felt about it, too."
Hernandez-Chiroldes' dedication to students in class, in his office and in his home earned him the college's Omicron Delta Kappa teaching award in 1989, and the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award in 1994. Students consider him to be not just another teacher, but "El Profesor!"
Citations from his teaching awards included the plaudits "He is a teacher whose introductory language courses are fun and full of laughter and enthusiasm, an adviser and counselor whose commitment to the welfare of students is legendary."
Other citations included, "Students see him as a friend, one who treats them with sympathy, patience and respect." "He is a master teacher who brings erudition into the classroom. When studying a text he is likely to bring in observations from art, philosophy, technology and music to provoke student curiosity."
Hernandez-Chiroldes notes that the word for "teach" in Spanish is "ensenar," which is also the verb for "to show." "And that's what a teacher does," he said. "Teaching is about generosity, about giving up the self to others. I love what I do. I tell freshmen on the first day of class they can call their parents and tell them they already have an ‘A' in Spanish. Then it's up to them to prove the contrary!"
A group of alumni has organized to show him their appreciation at a dinner on May 1. One of the participants is flying in from London for the occasion. Hernandez-Chiroldes also enjoys seeing alumni who return to campus.
Hernandez-Chiroldes was born in Cuba, and spent many afternoons in the large movie theatre his father managed, where new films were screened every day. Many were in foreign languages with Spanish subtitles, which was perhaps the beginning of his study of about a half-dozen languages. He recalls those occasions fondly, except when French films were on the bill. "I didn't like those because they talked too much and didn't do anything!" he joked.
He considered studying medicine in Cuba, but discovered quickly he liked being around young people rather than sick people. "College teaching attracts people who don't want to grow old, and those who want freedom without responsibility," he joked. "We can tell students almost anything we want without worrying about getting sued for malpractice."
He was disaffected with the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro, and left the country at age 18. He went to Puerto Rico to live with an uncle while he studied at the university. He is proud of the fact that, even with 69 first cousins, he was the first in his family to attend college. All four of his grandparents were illiterate.
While studying he worked in a variety of jobs loading trucks, serving as a messenger boy, and as a radio announcer. Six years later he financed his parents' relocation to Mexico, and supported them for a year until they could move to Miami. His father began working in America by cleaning floors in a restaurant, then a few years later bought the establishment!
His mother, now 96, still lives in Miami. Hernandez-Chiroldes and his spouse, Denise, will be moving there to establish their retirement home. They'll also be close to a brother, and his own son Bert '97, who works in the administration of a cruise line. His daughter, Denise '99, lives in Atlanta with husband Dax Cross '98 and works as a tax accountant.
|In addition to teaching, Hernandez-Chiroldes writes fiction and poetry.
Hernandez-Chiroldes received a scholarship to study at Coady Institute in Nova Scotia, Canada. He returned to Puerto Rico and earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Puerto Rico in 1969. He earned his master's degree in Spanish from Middlebury College and his Ph.D. in Latin American literature from the University of Texas. Before coming to Davidson he was for three years a faculty member at Holy Cross College.
Even though he's lived in America for 49 years, he remains a man without an official country. He is not a U.S. citizen, but is a permanent resident. He founded and led four Davidson student groups on study programs in Mexico, and led one group to Spain. But those trips were all prior to 9/11. Legal requirements issued in the wake of those attacks have made it impossible for him to travel abroad.
The vastly increased number of Hispanic residents in the country has been a boon for Davidson's Spanish department. One of just three instructors when he arrived, Hernandez-Chiroldes, like the other Spanish teachers, carried a teaching load of eight courses per year rather than the normal six courses at that time. The Spanish professors used to teach, as a service to the college, two extra courses without compensation. There are now nine faculty members in the department.
Hernandez-Chiroldes observes that students arrive at Davidson much better prepared in Spanish than previously. They also learn more quickly now, thanks to technology that helps them delve into the culture, study abroad programs and small group sessions between classes. "It's also easier to teach Spanish now because it's such a part of American culture," he said. "Fiesta, siesta, cerveza, arriba... they're all common words here now. The mélange of cultures is a good thing."
Hernandez-Chiroldes teaches a wide variety of language and literature classes, but specializes in Latin American literature before 1900. He has written a book about Jose Marti, a Cuban national hero who was also a prominent Latin American poet.
Outside his college duties, he has been active with Hispanic ministry in the Catholic Church, and has been a lifelong Real Madrid soccer fan.
He began to feel the tug of retirement when students began to seem too young, and memoranda in his in-box got too long to read. His goal in retirement is to continue creative writing of poetry and fiction. In 1979 he published a book of short stories titled "Ten Steps from Paradise," and he looks forward to having time to complete another one. He'll continue to be a voracious reader, a habit that has led to an impressively encyclopedic knowledge. "I've acquired a lot of knowledge that's useless at the bank, but I like to know facts," he said.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.