The right teacher at the right time can change a student’s trajectory in life forever. Henry Pimentel, an exploring world language educator at Willowcreek Middle School, understands this. After all, he’s had his own teachers for his entire life.
Pimentel grew up in Merrillville, graduating from Merrillville High School in ‘96 before going on to attend Purdue University Calumet (now Purdue University Northwest). When he was younger, he had the same dream jobs as every kid: firefighter, police officer, the works. As he grew older, Pimentel discovered the career running through his blood already.
“As I grew older, teaching was something that I thought I would enjoy,” said Pimentel. “My father was a teacher, I had an uncle that was a teacher, my mom was a teacher, and one of my older brothers became a teacher. It was in my blood.”
Pimentel began his teaching career at Portage High School. When he first received his degree, Pimentel planned to further his education so he could become an administrator. After shuffling around schools for a while, including one that required an hour commute to and from work, Pimentel found himself feeling a bit burnt out. Coming back to Portage changed that.
“I'm glad I came back to Portage; I think I found a home at Willowcreek,” said Pimentel. “I think the culture with the teachers, the community, and the administrators here just rejuvenated me. I went back to school and got my master's degree.”
In the classroom, Pimentel works hard to ensure that his students are learning more than just a foreign language. He understands that the world they’re living in now may not be the same as the world they begin working in because of the advancing march of technology, so Pimentel tries to teach his students transferable skills that they can apply widely.
“I'm good at telling stories, and the kids know that,” said Pimentel. “Sometimes, they try to test me and throw things out that’ll get me going off on a story. If there's a chance I can take what I'm teaching and go to real life, I let it go because I know I can turn it right back into the lesson. Teaching life lessons is also a big part of teaching. I know it's cliche, but we're shaping our future.”
In order to do his job well, Pimentel tries to stay at the forefront of new technologies so that he can incorporate them into his lessons. Doing so ensures that, even if kids don’t walk away from his class knowing Spanish, they’ll still have lessons they carry with them into the future.
“I think some people lose sight of the fact that things are changing. I'm not going to say that I understand all the technology, but I try to learn whatever I can and introduce that into my classroom,” said Pimentel. “I want to get students to recognize that technology is something that is probably going to be more advanced when they move on in their lives and choose their careers. I hope that they can look back and say, ‘Well, Mr. Pimentel was right. I did this in his class, and that little part is helping me today.’”
Of course, Pimentel also hopes that his students take a little bit of Spanish with them when they go as well. Like every other skill that Pimentel teaches, Spanish is useful in a variety of situations.
“You never know when you're going to come in contact with somebody and need to know Spanish,” said Pimentel. “We have diverse cultures in this country, so you're going to have different languages being spoken.”
When he’s not educating the youth, Pimentel likes to spend time with his wife and four children. They attend sporting events for both Portage and Hobart, camp, and simply enjoy each other’s company. Pimentel also coaches Willowcreek’s basketball teams. Everything he does is a means of reaching out to the community and forming connections.
“You can usually find us with what we call our camp family at Plymouth Jellystone Park. Some of our camp family lives close enough to us that, even outside the camp season, we still get together and have dinner,” Pimentel said. “My dad and my uncle made connections, and I still talk to people that are involved in the community through the connections that I've made.”