Teacher Talk

Gilbert Gabriel, Richmond High School, West Contra Costa Unified School District
Part-time ESL teacher gives back to immigrant community

Gilbert Gabriel, part-time ESL teacher at Richmond High School.

“What brought me to teach English as a Second Language is the belief that I have something to offer the community as an immigrant myself,” said Gilbert Gabriel, who works in the insurance industry by day and teaches adult ESL at night at Richmond High School.

Gabriel, who has been a CalSTRS member since he started teaching 12 years ago, says he brings a different perspective to the art of teaching, because his initial teaching experience came from working in the corporate world rather than being in a classroom setting.

“I believe that I tend to show more empathy toward my students since I have ‘been there, done that.’ … I also came from a family of teachers so you could say it’s in the genes!”

Why did you become a teacher?

“When I first thought of becoming a teacher, I wasn’t sure I had much to offer—I didn’t have any experience teaching in a classroom setting. But since I was in banking as an operations supervisor and I trained new employees, I figured it was the same concept—you give positive feedback and there’s one-on-one instruction.”

Since he “lived and breathed the immigrant experience,” Gabriel doesn’t just teach his students conversational English; he also teaches them life skills like how to order food at a restaurant and how to ask for directions.

“I always tell my students that, because they have regular jobs during the day, you really have to work hard. You came to this country because you wanted a better life for you and your family so you have to really work on it, and the first step is to really be able to communicate—learning doesn’t begin and end in the classroom, you have to really practice every day.”

Gabriel considers teaching adult ESL his calling. “Whenever someone asks me ‘What do you do?’ I say first that I’m a teacher because I’m really proud of that. And whenever somebody asks me why I do it, because it’s kind of tiring working 9 to 5 and then rushing to teach after work, I tell them it’s a stress reliever because I really, really love teaching. And getting paid is just icing on the cake!”

Was there a teacher who influenced you?

Gabriel credits his college calculus professor as inspiration for his own teaching methods. “Numbers aren’t one of my strengths. She really took the time to talk to me and find out what made me tick, asked what I liked about the subject and what I didn’t like. I do the same thing with my students. I try to get to know my students individually and then go from there because you cannot use the same teaching method to teach every student.”

Tell us about your family

Gabriel comes from a family of teachers—including his paternal grandparents, his father’s three sisters and some of his cousins. His parents brought the family to this country from the Philippines about 35 years ago although they were living comfortably, with his father working as a mechanical engineer.

“I remember my dad telling me that the reason we were leaving our life in the Philippines to come to the U.S. was for us to have a better life. For him to quit his job to come here, because of us, he really had to make a personal sacrifice. But seeing his children succeed in this country made it all worthwhile.”

Looking ahead to life after retirement

What would Gabriel like to do after retirement? If you guessed teaching, you got it right!

“I would love to be able to teach English abroad. That way I can combine my two passions of teaching and traveling. It’s really what I want to do for the rest of my life—when I retire from my day job!”


Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email Communications@CalSTRS.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.

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