Until Next Friday

The departure from Bishop’s of Mr. Raul Ruiz

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Raul Ruiz

Mr. Ruiz’s last day of teaching was Friday, December 3rd.

Crystal Li, Copy Editor

As you walk down the Bentham hallways, you hear a faint beat from somewhere in your memories, so familiar that you can’t put your finger on it. After deciding to approach the source of the sound, you find yourself in front of a classroom overflowing with laughter and the catchy boom-boom of “Friday” by Rebecca Black. Upon entering the room, the Harkness-style table and the fluorescent lighting may not seem more than commonplace. However, if you had been a past student of History and Government Teacher Mr. Raul Ruiz, you would know where to look for his treasured collection of student-given gifts; snowglobes and other trinkets line neatly on top of a storage cabinet. Just like his room suggests, Mr. Ruiz is quite the remarkable teacher.  

Seeing him in front of his laptop reminded me of my first day at Bishop’s—it seemed like ages ago when Mr. Ruiz taught my freshman history class in the warmly-lit room of Scripps 217. After starting out teaching Modern World History and a semester class in Latin American history, his interests and passions guided him to teach Honors European history and Honors U.S. Government and Politics (Mock Trial). Despite being a part of Bishop’s community for only a little longer than three years, Mr. Ruiz has become an integral part of student life and the history and social sciences department. 

Mr. Ruiz had always been interested in a variety of academic areas alongside history and political science during college, but he didn’t finalize his decision to become a teacher until a direct experience working with students in the suburbs of France. When he was an undergraduate at Columbia University, his passion for music and meeting new people in new cultures led him to play trombone in the quiet town of Strasbourg, France. Charmed by the environment there, after finishing law school, he moved to Stains, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, and began teaching at a high school with predominantly immigrant students. 

“One of the things that made me really think was how students and young people can sometimes feel alienated like they’re not a part of their community or a part of their country,” he said in response to the series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris during that time, 2015. He remembers that there were kids in the suburbs that were not particularly affected by the idea that violence was happening so close to them, since they didn’t feel like they were a part of it. He continued, “I had really thought about how important it is for people to feel like they belong… I really wanted to have that opportunity to lead young people in discussions that help them become citizens, that help them feel like they can participate in their politics.” 

That emphasis on inclusion and awareness became a staple in Mr. Ruiz’s classes. One of his favorite units to teach is World War I because of the extensive research that comes with understanding this historical event. As an advocate for discussion-based conversations, he said, “I like seeing students talk about cause and consequence, because what I enjoy most is seeing kids make connections.” More than anything, Mr. Ruiz wants his students to think about the history they learn in class as real life, just as global citizens do. 

Besides the frequent use of historical thinking templates and lectures on the importance of research, Mr. Ruiz has many other traditions popular among students. One of such is the question-of-the-day activity. “Mr. Ruiz’s classes were always a highlight of my day when I had him as a teacher,” said Emily Zhou (‘23). “I always looked forward to his questions of the day, where Mr. Ruiz would ask silly icebreaker questions to the class… It created a fun and casual learning environment for students and made the class much more engaging.” Many other students echoed this viewpoint. “Mr. Ruiz’s classes are always a blast,” remarked Grace Dabir (‘24). “He is very supportive of his students and tries to make learning history fun and interactive.” 

Mr. Ruiz knows that teaching is not just about the transference of knowledge, but also establishing a relationship of wanting to learn together. “I ask these questions because I actually care… I think that [this activity] creates trust between us,” he explained. Many parts of history are very heavy to discuss, and Mr. Ruiz always tries to include less talkative students. Therefore, question of the day is a lighthearted way to begin class and create a safe environment where people feel welcomed. 

Another tradition is one that is well-known to most on campus. Even if you never had Mr. Ruiz as a teacher, you would know exactly who blasts Rebecca Black’s unforgettable song every Friday. “I think it’s just a little ritual where they know Friday’s here,” Mr. Ruiz chuckled and continued. “At least they’ll think about it… [and feel] maybe not excitement, but at least anticipation.” 

When asked about this specific tradition, many of his students harbored extreme feelings: you either love it or hate it. “I mean, we all dreaded it, but [the song] was also unifying and class-bonding,” laughed Saavi Banerjee (‘22). “Even when all of his students were plugging their ears and complaining about hearing it for what felt like the millionth time that year, Mr. Ruiz would still be smiling and singing along with Rebecca,” noted Emily. Undoubtedly, “Friday” adds just the perfect amount of levity for students before learning about ponderous topics in world history, government, and politics. “It also humanizes me a little bit,” explained Mr. Ruiz. “I’m not just the person that’s telling you about the terrible things that happened in the past. It’s more, you know, Mr. Ruiz is also a silly person!”

His relatability and openness are also some things that students remember dearly. For his advisees, advisory time never felt like a chore; rather, it was a treasured time for bonding. “Even those five minutes in the mornings were something to look forward to,” said Jasper Jain (‘23). “We’ve always had fun conversations during that time, and if anyone ever needs to talk, he’s the first person they can go to.” This advisory group was also very special within itself; though many student groups change advisors after freshman year, Mr. Ruiz’s group was able to stay with him. “He was like, I think these kids are pretty cool, so let’s stick together,” explained Zayd Aslam (‘23) jokingly. “We even bonded over things like video games and karaoke.” Needless to guess, there were also a lot of sing-alongs involved. “The biggest thing that they had to go through is that they’ve listened to the Friday song, I think, 116 times now,” Mr. Ruiz said.

“Yeah, uh, that’s a lot of times,” I chimed in. 

“I know… maybe too many,” he humorously sighed. 

Sadly, timing is never easy. Because Mr. Ruiz has decided to pursue a career in law, there are steps necessary for preparation such as taking the Bar Exam, a licensing assessment that a lawyer must pass to practice law in a certain state. “It’s about 10 weeks’ time studying for this big test,” he explained, “I can’t be working and studying at the same time… that’s why I’m leaving in the middle of the year. It was a difficult decision.” A firm believer in exploring new paths and expanding your horizons, Mr. Ruiz shared his thinking process. “I had made the choice before not to [pursue law] and instead go straight into teaching,” he paused, thinking, “But I think over the years, I started thinking about what could’ve happened. Is it something that I should have explored?” Thus, he is very excited about the endless possibilities that come with opening such a door. 

Though he will be continuing his career in a position at the Sidley Austin Law Firm in Chicago, he has made it clear that he will cherish his experiences on campus with his colleagues and students. “I’ve told my students: once your teacher, always your teacher.” He not only gave them an email address with which to reach him, but also an invitation to talk whenever about questions they may have regarding college, law school, or anything else in the future. “I want to make myself available,” Mr. Ruiz said, with a glint in his eye. “Because, I do, I really do deeply care about each person that has sat in my classroom. I really believe that if I can help them in any way, I want to be able to help.”

Hoping to inspire others with his teaching career and passion for trying new things, Mr. Ruiz leaves his students with one piece of advice: try to live with a sense of wonder. 

“We live in a world where people want you to specialize in things… it’s definitely good to know what you’re good at,” he said. “But I think that it’s also important to just be curious about everything. Question everything and ask why.” People always say that they wish they could listen to a certain piece of music again for the first time. And that is exactly why Mr. Ruiz loves working with students—for them, everything is new. Keeping that sense of wonder is a good way of living your life.