It’s nice to see you this morning

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“Good morning, it’s nice to see you this morning.”

Those are the iconic words that English teacher Cecilia Arias says to each of her classes first thing in the morning — the only variable being a change to “good afternoon” after lunch. Like many things about her, it is a genuine reflection of her passion for her profession, for her students and for her life.

“I say it because it’s truly nice to see them — it’s just an acknowledgement that I’m doing what I was meant to do in my life,” Arias said. “I hope that through the literature they’ve been exposed to, they’ve learned compassion. My students have never been a slave, but they have read “Beloved” and have an idea of what that experience was like and the horrors of it. They’ve never been a migrant worker, but they see George and Lenny’s [from “Of Mice and Men”] plight and the isolation of it and have empathy for the downtrodden in society. But not a week goes by that I don’t learn something from them. A student will notice something I’ve never seen before, and that’s the beauty of great literature.”

20 years of teaching English has only heightened that appreciation. After all, Arias began her career not as a teacher, but as an accountant.

“I always wanted to be a teacher — always always always. But I thought I needed to get a job, and I knew accountants made good money. Eventually, instead of thinking about something I wanted to do, I just did it,” Arias said. “If you find your passion, every day you get up and go to work is going to be a beautiful day. And I feel strongly about that, because I spent the first 15 years of my career doing something that I liked, but I was not passionate about. It’s scary to think about changing, but it was the best thing I ever did.”

After briefly teaching at other schools, Arias taught business at Walnut for five years before finally finding her niche in the English department. In the past, she’s also served as adviser for Future Business Leaders of America and Girl’s League.

“When you’re in a profession like an accountant, everyone’s an accountant and they’re all professionals with college degrees and have similar kinds of attitudes. When you teach in a public high school like Walnut, I see kids from different backgrounds, different places in their lives. And it makes me understand that not everybody is like me. And I think that’s important for us to understand. We tend to look at the world through our own prism, right? We tend to take our values and place them on other people. And I think it has made me a person who looks at the world in a much broader way by teaching here at Walnut,” Arias said.

Thousands of good mornings later, we sit in her classroom — Arias holding back tears — as she reflects on the people who have impacted her and on the ambiguous, but optimistic, future ahead.

“I want to thank my colleagues here; they’ve been so supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better group of English teachers, especially, who support each other and share information. It’s a joy to come everyday to work with the people I work with. That’s why I say ‘good morning’ to them. I thank them for being so open in sharing their ideas, so receptive in trying new things, so dedicated in trying to improve. I want them to know I appreciate that,” Arias said. “I was so lucky in finding my purpose in life, so a huge part of my identity is being a teacher. But that is going to go away, and it’s scary if you’ve defined yourself in a certain way and now it’s gone. How do I look at myself now? I think I’m going to have to try to figure that out — that’s my quest for the future.”

By Angela Cao, Opinion editor

Photo by Jessie Dixon

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