Spanish professor inspires students through perseverance

Spanish professor inspires students through perseverance

Spanish professor inspires students through perseverance
May 31
13:21 2017

Sean Riedel | Staff Writer

Walking into a classroom in the Language Building, a man with a dark goatee and shaved head taps the ground with a long white stick with a red tip. The cane helps him to know if there are objects in his way, as well as helping him find his way to the front of the room.

Once at the front, he sets down his bag, pulls out his laptop and then sets it up. He plugs in headphones so the computer can read off the list of students names to him for attendance.

“Justin, are you here?” he asks.

“Yes, Professor Fuentes,” Justin said, hopping up to grab a flash drive from Professor Fuentes and get the days PowerPoint set up.

Eric Fuentes, 33, is a professor in the UNT Spanish department, teaching different Spanish courses throughout the week. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish from UNT, and has been here ever since.

While Spanish is commonly one of the harder languages to learn at UNT for a majority of students, he has achieved these accomplishments while also being blind.

Fuentes was diagnosed with the vision disorder Retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, at age 13 after having vision troubles his entire childhood.

“It’s a hereditary disease,” Fuentes said. “I got it from my mom. Moms give it to their sons, and sons give it to their daughters. It first attacks your night vision, and then your peripheral vision, and then your central vision.”

The middle of three boys, his older brother also suffers from RP, having been diagnosed a year after Fuentes. However, his brother only recently began to experience the deterioration of his sight.

While learning he had a vision disorder was rough on Fuentes, he said it was an even bigger challenge since he was diagnosed during the already awkward time of middle school.

“The challenges growing up was just dealing with the fact that you’re being told you’re never going to be able to see,” Fuentes said. “I became very introverted and struggled with depression throughout middle school and high school, missing out on ‘normal stuff’ like getting your license at 16 and playing on the football team. I always wanted to play on the football team, but they’re like, ‘You’re blind, you can’t do that!’”

Fuentes said he always thought of teaching as one of his only career options.

“I knew I wanted to teach, I just didn’t know what subject,” Fuentes said. “Honestly, Spanish was kind of the only thing I was making As in, so I was like, ‘I’ll just teach this.’”

But teaching is only one of Fuentes’ passions. He has also been playing music since he was a teenager.

“I play the bass guitar, it’s my home instrument,” Fuentes said. “I play the guitar, a little bit of drums and a little bit of keyboards.”

Fuentes used to play music gigs in and around Denton, having been in several bands. He and his older brother have always been in the same band.

Fuentes credits his love for playing music as the foundation for many of his friendships.

“I really got into playing guitar and bass, and from that I made some deep relationships,” Fuentes said. “Actually, that’s how I met my wife. She was at one of our gigs.”

Fuentes and his wife Megan met in 2006 and have been together ever since, having married in 2010.

“My wife is the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet,” Fuentes said. “She does more than any other wife does for a husband. And she gives up a lot of her free time, and a lot of her freedoms just to help me. She’s the best woman I know.”

One of Fuentes’ favorite activities is simply spending quality time with his wife.

“We love to do what we call ‘Square Dates,’ where we just go down to the Square and grab a meal, and then just walk around and listen to the live music,” Fuentes said. “It’ll sound lame, but probably the thing I love the most is just being around Megan. Anytime she and I can do something together, that’s probably my favorite time of the day.”

While RP might stop Fuentes from doing some things, like playing football, he also knows the things he does despite RP have benefited him the most.

Fuentes hopes that being a visually impaired educator will add to his students learning experience as well as their overall gratitude for their every day lives.

“I guess I’d like to think it makes them feel more part of the class, you know, like ‘Professor Fuentes needs me to be there today’ kind of thing,” Fuentes said. “I get to have a different kind of relationship with my students.”

Featured Image: Eric Fuentes stands in front of his Spanish class, going over a lesson. Fuentes was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a vision disorder, when he was 13 years old. Sean Riedel

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Kayleigh Bywater

Kayleigh Bywater

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