Sometimes overcoming challenges teaches us more about the key to success than any lessons found in books.
That may be the case for César Llontop, a Peruvian native who teaches math at the Middlesex Community College site at Platt High School in Meriden and at the New London Adult & Continuing Education program.
The Record-Journal’s Lau Guzmán, a corps member with Report for America, writes that the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers recently named Llontop its Educator of the Year.
“I teach mathematics with all my passion and I put my heart into it,” Llontop said. He’s been doing this for the past 12 years and his classroom innovations and dedication is notable.
The award Llontop won is known as a STAR Award, an acronym derived from the Society’s Technical Achievement and Recognition program. According to Guzmán, the awards are given to individuals who excel in science, technology, engineering or math who are changing lives through their community outreach, work and research.
Lliontop didn’t always see a clear path to success. After getting a teaching certificate, he began teaching at Lyman Memorial High School in Lebanon. He worried that his slight Spanish accent might prove to be a disadvantage at a majority-white school, according to Guzmán’s story.
“The lack of teachers of color is an ongoing issue in the state, as students of color represented 51% of the total enrollment in 2021-2022, while minority educators made up just 11% of educators, according to state data,” Guzmán writes.
One of Llontop’s strengths is making math concepts easier to understand. Sometimes he uses YouTube videos, sometimes he talks very loudly or perhaps he’ll break into song to get his point across. Students say he generously gives extra help with math and other academic needs.
Llontop told Guzmán he moved to the U.S. at age 19 and it took a while to find himself and a career path that would suit him. “I had to adopt a new culture. I adopted the best of the American values, and I merged them with the best of the Peruvian values,” says Llontop.
Llontop’s former supervisor says, “I tell César all the time that he should feel proud about what he's doing and the impact that he's having on students’ lives.”
This gifted teacher didn’t follow an easy, predicable path as he worked to attain career goals. But Llontop understands that just as he had worries about finding acceptance and success, his students too may struggle as they tackle a subject that many find daunting. The extra help and understanding he provides give a depth to his lessons that goes well beyond the classroom.