Reinaldo Gonzalez loves words, whether they are in English or Spanish, the subject he has taught for forty years, thirty of them spent at The Hun School. The self-described “grammarian” has spent countless days helping students hone the finer points of conjugating verbs in Spanish 1 and 2, and finessing skills in AP Spanish, but it is words as building blocks for meaningful conversations that truly inspire him. “I have always believed that if students like you, they are more willing to learn from you,” he says. “It is those relationships you build that are the most important thing—that’s what teaching is really about.”
The intellectual tango of a dynamic conversation drives Mr. Gonzalez, who is known for his ability to get students talking. While his AP Spanish class is structured around conversation, students still seek him out before and after class to continue chatting. This year, as students study in a hybrid schedule, he has been heartened by a student who joins him every morning from China—just to check in.
In addition to mental sparring, Mr. Gonzalez encourages competition on the piste as The Hun School’s fencing coach. A fencer himself—he was the foil captain at Princeton University—Mr. Gonzalez is credited with reigniting Hun’s program when he joined the faculty in 1991. “Fencing got me into teaching,” he shares.
It was a nonnegotiable for this highly regarded coach, who at one point served as the head coach for both Princeton Day School and The Lawrenceville School simultaneously. “It was unusual,” jokes Mr. Gonzalez, who adds that the two teams, typically fierce opponents, rode the same bus and nearly functioned as one team under his direction. Mr. Gonzalez’s Hun teams have been among the most powerful in New Jersey, with the girls’ team winning state championships in 2004. One of his daughters was also the team captain.
Both daughters, Emily and Sara (a three-time state champion), fenced under him while students at Hun, but he drew the line at the classroom door. “I never wanted to teach my children,” he says. “If they did well, people would think I favored them and if they did poorly, I’d have to come home to my wife,” he jokes.
Now, as Mr. Gonzalez plans to step away from campus life, he prefers to keep his plans up in the air. “I’ll let the future decide,” he says, before adding that he’ll be doing plenty of reading, writing, coaching fencing at a local club, and tutoring Spanish. He is most looking forward to packing his bags full of books and hopping on a cross-country train with his wife to visit their daughter and granddaughter in Portland, Oregon. Something tells us he may strike up a few interesting conversations on the rails.