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NMSU professor shares passion for languages, teaching

Growing up in Encino, N.M., Hermán García would go to school, come home and help his father work on cars. García spent his entire childhood in northern New Mexico following in the footsteps of generations of Garcías before him. In fact, his family has been in New Mexico for more than 300 years. His feet were only lifted from their native soil when the military draft led him to serve in Vietnam and Germany.


Hermán García sitting at a desk from the waist up.
Hermán García, director of elementary education, has been teaching at New Mexico State University since 1991. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

When García returned from abroad his thoughts immediately turned to school and he attended New Mexico Highlands University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in education. García taught in public schools and earned two more degrees, a master's in modern languages and literature from Washington State University and a doctorate in education from NMSU.

García is an NMSU Regents Professor and the director of elementary education in the College of Education. Although his job titles have changed over more than 20 years at the university, his passion for education and language remain the same. He believes children should speak a minimum of two languages and stresses the importance of developing and maintaining language skills. García himself speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

"Acquiring another language includes academic proficiency and social competency so that it doesn't just help one with school or work but becomes a way to experience life," García says.

He also describes how language can express culture in subtle ways. For example, in English, time runs: watches run and people run errands. In Spanish, "el tiempo camina," or time walks; in German, it functions.

"That's just a fraction of ways that languages are different from one another but not better, because each language has its own richness," García says. "I can do things with Spanish that I can't do with English and vice versa."

While much of bilingual education in the U.S. deals with English and Spanish, García has also worked with indigenous communities in New Mexico, Arizona and Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. He helped teachers develop curricula with a bilingual emphasis that not only focus on keeping children tied to their native languages and culture, but also aim to keep those students academically strong in English.

"One language does not diminish another language," García says. "The number of languages you speak is based on your desire to learn and experience that language. My only regret about speaking four languages is that I don't speak five, six or seven."

García's passion is not limited to language however. He is passionate about his role as director of elementary education and says he wants to ensure that graduate students have a high quality education and the richest student teaching experience possible.

NMSU's teacher preparation program in elementary education is set up so that future teachers spend a year and half in actual classrooms and García spends much of his time in the field coordinating with classroom teachers, principals, parents and even speaking with children to assure the effectiveness of the teaching environment.

García doesn't only make sure the student-teachers are making progress in the classrooms they run, but he also meets with faculty to make certain what is being taught by NMSU professors is clearly understood by students.

"It's quite an involved process, but one that I find rewarding, especially when we hear from school districts that hired our students and say they were not only 'teacher-ready,' but at the level of a second- or third-year teacher," García says.

Looking back on things, García is confident he chose the right path and looks forward to making continual improvements to NMSU's elementary education program.

"I always wondered what it would like to be a teacher and when I went to college I immediately chose elementary education because hands down, that's what I wanted to do," García says. "I love my work and it's been a great career."