Coffee Chats: New Spanish teacher Jose Ezcurra
This is the sixth installment of Coffee Chats, where The Paly Voice gets to know staff members over a cup of coffee.
The Paly Voice sat down with Palo Alto High School Spanish teacher Jose Ezcurra last week, who opted out of drinking coffee late in the day, and discussed his passion for traveling and his philosophy for enjoying life to its maximum potential.
Ezcurra teaches Spanish 1 and Spanish 2, but he is not your typical Spanish teacher. When he is not instructing students through songs or games on “que” and “cuando,” you will find him hiking through jungles, meandering through deserts and making the most of every wonder this world has to offer.
“I like to travel, sometimes all I do is travel for the whole year,” Ezcurra said. “If the opportunity arises and there is a teaching job, I might do it.”
Some of Ezcurra’s travel adventures have included hiking the Himalayas, working in Peru, and recently teaching in Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia, Ezcurra taught Spanish at a school that follows an American curriculum, and observed the differences in the education system between Saudi Arabia and the United States. For example they have a ten day break called Eid and traveling opportunities with students.
“In November we have a event called ‘Week without Walls’,” Ezcurra said. “Teachers offer international opportunities everywhere in the world. They get 10 sign ups and they go. You go with them and you make up the curriculum, you know, salsa dancing, cooking.”
Ezcurra noticed several gender dynamic differences in Saudi Arabia. For example, he was the only male teacher at his school. He also observed women’s rights changing in the city he stayed in.
“They cannot drive, they cannot own a car, they always have to wear -it’s called the abaya- the black dress,” Ezcurra said. “However they are evolving, [the women] don’t need to cover their head, they do not need to wear a hijab.”
In addition to teaching in Saudi Arabia, Ezcurra has taught English in Peru through a Teacher Exchange Program, which fully funded his trip and kept him on payroll in the United States. While Ezcurra was in Peru, the teacher he was temporarily replacing came to Palo Alto to teach his classes.
According to Ezcurra, teaching was not in his original life plan, but he soon realized it was something he really enjoyed and could combine with his love for traveling.
“For me it [teaching] just happened; my ex-wife was a teacher, so when we moved to California, I ended up having a grant and I started working at a school,” Ezcurra said. “I loved to have summers off, and it became something I enjoyed doing a lot.”
Ezcurra admits that he wasn’t ever sure what his passion was, career-wise. Growing up in Spain, however, he knew his dreams stretched farther than the boundaries of his hometown.
“I always wanted to see the world,” Ezcurra said. “When I was 15 or 16, my friends and I would go out on Fridays, party in the night, talk and we would start planning the things we wanted to do. I talked about wanting to go to the Himalayas, wanting to do this and that.”
However, Ezcurra explains, when Saturday morning rolled around, he found himself to be the only one who actually believed in the plans discussed the night before.
“So one day, I said, ‘That’s it,’” Ezcurra said. “I was already 24, better late than never, and just quit my job over there, studied English for one day and moved to England.”
Continuing this spontaneous lifestyle, Ezcurra worked for some time in England as an au pair, worked miscellaneous jobs in Paris and around Europe and finally moved to California where he ended up teaching Spanish.
“I eventually got my degree here and started teaching,” Ezcurra said. “I taught in East Palo Alto, a couple of years in first grade. I came to Palo Alto and worked at Jordan [Middle School] for 10 years on and off.”
According to Ezcurra, throughout his life, traveling has remained a continuous priority. He refers to traveling as the “university of life,” and lives for the novelty of new places, people and experiences.
“What is the best place? Always the next one,” Ezcurra said. “It’s in the excitement about seeing something you haven’t seen before.”
Throughout his travels, whether it be hiking the Himalayas, kayaking in Greenland, or wandering through northern India, Ezcurra has found that he has learned the most through both his mistakes and hands-on experiences, which applies to the classroom.
“I’ve been doing a lot of things about happiness in my class, and how to really obtain that,” Ezcurra said. “I tell my students to learn to make mistakes. People who try to be perfect at everything they do, it’s just bad. Obtaining perfection is impossible. Grades just interrupt education.”
Teaching at a high school for the first time instead of middle school, Ezcurra notices a disparity between the cultures at the different schools.
“[From] what I have seen thus far, grades here matter more, there is not the same approach in class,” Ezcurra said. “Activities with everyone singing and playing don’t get as well received.”
Ezcurra’s main advice to Paly students is to go out and experience the world, and to live every-day as if it were their last.
“I know you hear it a lot, live every day as if it was your last day, but you have to believe it,” Ezcurra said. “The younger you are the harder it is to understand that. It is not just one more day in life, it is one fewer day in life. Out there is a world worth exploring. The sooner you do it the better.”