A headshot of Richard TejadaA teacher at Curtis Middle School in San Bernardino, Richard Tejada is exactly where he wants to be.

“My priority at the moment is to continue developing as an educator,” he said. “My passion is education and I definitely feel right at home in front of a class. The feeling I get leaving Curtis Middle School every day is indescribable.”

Tejada, the son of Salvadorian immigrants, moved to San Bernardino at age nine. His parents came to the United States with “little more than the clothes on their backs and hope; not hope for themselves but hope that they could provide my sisters and I with more opportunities than they had,” he said.

He grew up in a “rough” area — his home was burglarized, his bike was stolen, and he was jumped by kids and adults several times while walking to and from school — but Tejada had the support of his teachers at Bradley Elementary, Arrowview Middle School, San Bernardino High School, and Middle College High School, who “inspired a poor Latino kid from a bad neighborhood to dream.”

As a freshman in high school, Tejada was motivated to attend Middle College High School (MCHS), located on the San Bernardino Valley College campus, because he “knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime for a kid like me. My whole life, I was raised with the idea that my education would be my only escape from poverty, yet being the son of two immigrants with no role models that could help me make sense of how to go to college, I knew that I had to take whatever chance I could get.” Looking back, Tejada believes he was also driven by the need to prove “I wouldn’t be a victim of my circumstances, and a need to better my life so that I could one day provide a better life for my parents.” 

A photo of a hallway at Middle College High SchoolMCHS was “definitely not your typical high school experience,” he said. There were fewer than 30 people in his graduating class, and while it lacked some of the social aspects of a larger high school, “the teachers were truly amazing,” Tejada said. “I think being in an environment where I knew the teachers cared about me and where my peers were focused on academic success made all the difference in the world for me.”

Tejada was able to speak about his experience at MCHS and growing up in San Bernardino during the annual Community Gathering for Excellence, held by the San Bernardino Community College District and San Bernardino City Unified School District in December.

Sharing his story was “incredibly humbling,” Tejada said, but he wishes that someone with his background isn’t viewed as the exception to the rule.

“I am an outlier to the general trend seen with kids from similar backgrounds,” he said. “I think that’s a sign of a much larger problem in the world of education. My story should really be the norm; I see it with my students every day they all have the capacity to do great things, but grit alone won’t get them there. They need the tools.”

Tejada, who has also worked with San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis’s team to improve community relations and give residents a voice at City Hall, says he would like to continue teaching for at least another decade, before ultimately shifting towards an administrative role, as a vice principal or principal.

“My thought is that I can have a bigger impact in my community in this role,” he said. “That is always the goal — improving my community.”

Tejada wants to see change enacted in the city where he grew up, but he appreciates how his past has shaped him.

“I am proud to be a product of San Bernardino,” he said. “From our public schools to San Bernardino Valley College and Cal State San Bernardino, this city has made me who I am.”