Mario Herrera has been part of the Midtown community for 17 years, during which time he has been a debate coach and has taught AP Seminar, AP Research, and Speech Forensics. Herrera’s story was not always taught, however.
“I did a bit of work for Disney, choreographing high school show choirs for about 12 to 15 years, but I also worked in healthcare for 11 years,” Herrera said. “I was a debate coach the whole time while I was working those other jobs.”
After her mother’s death, Herrera began teaching to follow in her footsteps. He decided to go back to school in 1997 in order to have an impact on the next generation.
“I decided to teach not only because of my mother, but also because I thought to myself that if I spent all my time giving speeches and debates, then why am I not teaching it”, Herrera said.
In addition to being a teacher, Herrera is also the head coach of the Jesters’ speech and debate team and has been coaching debate for 30 years. Under his leadership, the debate team won the state championship 12 years in a row.
“One of the best experiences on the debate team was when I lost in the first round of the state tournament my sophomore year,” said elder Peter Haynes. “The reason it was actually a good experience is that Mr. Herrera really helped me grow from that loss to be a much better competitor.”
Junior Walker Land has been on the debate team since his sophomore year.
“Mario is a very good debate team leader and very knowledgeable about all things school and debate,” Land said. “He’s very involved in a lot of different things and is incredibly dedicated to being a great teacher and debate coach.”
While Herrera loves his job and what he does, teaching is not without its challenges.
“The hardest part of being a teacher is being told what to do by people who haven’t been to class in years,” Herrera said. “It’s frustrating when I teach my students to use their voice, then when the teachers use their voice, they’re ignored, so I think the biggest frustration is the bureaucracy.”
The highlight of Herrera’s teaching is seeing the light bulb go on in students when they understand the material.
“My favorite thing about teaching is seeing the ‘ah-ha’ moment when a student grasps a concept,” Herrera said. “I like to learn from my students and my colleagues. I love the challenge of making things interesting and growing as a speech and debate coach as well as an AP teacher.
Although Herrera has made great strides with the debate team, COVID-19 has put them in a tough spot. All competitions since the start of the pandemic have been entirely virtual.
“The last two years have been incredibly wonderful and difficult,” Herrera said. “It was hard to get used to what was the new normal. Trying to make sure my students were okay during virtual school was probably the biggest struggle of the quarantine. The constant worry and high alert of wondering if everyone was okay was tiring.
The students feel that Herrera’s class is something special.
“Going into ninth grade was stressful, especially after quarantine, but he’s improved a lot,” rookie Marian Waller said. Waller is in Herrera 1’s speech class. “I’m looking forward to his class and he taught me a lot about high school and life.”
Freshman Livia Bolster is also in Herrera’s speech and forensics class.
“Mr. Herreras’ class is unique from others because I’m able to talk about issues that teachers normally wouldn’t talk about and I’m actually able to voice my opinion,” Bolster said. “He actually listens students and interacts with them in a way that is relatable and comforting.”
Many students appreciate Herrera’s openness.
“One of Mr. Herrera’s best qualities as a mentor and coach is that he will be completely honest with you,” Haynes said. “You can tell how genuine he is and if you need to step up your game, he will definitely let you know. Mr. Herrera greatly enriched my high school experience.
Being a teacher at Herrera is about finding joy in your students.
“At the risk of sounding corny, the best part of being a teacher is having students laugh, when people are themselves and when you see who the students really are,” Herrera said.