San José City College Centennial: Chuck Hunter

Centennial stories - Retired Faculty Chuck Hunter
San Jose City College Faculty Chuck Hunter, October 2020
SJCC faculty Chuck Hunter, October 2020

Reading Specialist Chuck Hunter became a faculty member in San Jose City College’s English Department in 1969. He has advanced degrees in Learning Disabilities related to Dyslexia and taught full-time at the college until 2007 when he transitioned to being an adjunct until 2014. His career spans over 45 years. If it weren’t for a lengthy commute from where he currently lives he would still be teaching.

In honor of City College’s Centennial celebration, we had the chance to talk to Chuck about his time working at City College and what he remembers the most.

What is your favorite memory of being at SJCC? 

The overriding memory that I visit very frequently is the fun of being in the classroom and what I derived from my students. Teaching is a busy two-way street. Dealing with students who are functioning below the English 1A level is a real challenge, because many of these students don’t really embrace the notion that they can be successful in college.

Traveling this byway was a delight, watching students realize that they did have a voice which would be listened to and that they could analyze and develop opinions which weren’t just a belief passed on from family dynamics or a result of peer pressure. This was invigorating for me, and I miss it very dearly.

Is there a student who stands out in your mind?

If I would have to name one student it is a young woman with whom I have remained in contact since she enrolled in my class in 1983 named Opal. From her first day in class, it was clearly evident that she was extremely intelligent but also somewhat reserved and hesitant. 

It didn’t take long for me to learn that she was living in a car with her mother and sister and was anxious to set out on her own. Lengthy office hour discussions evolved into telephone calls to my home, and her hopes and aspirations ultimately led to helping her find an inexpensive apartment which she could afford through her part-time job.

“I have never regretted my decision to become a teacher, and hopefully my efforts have resulted in positive changes in the lives of the students…”

Chuck Hunter

She had no transportation, so one of my sons sold her a moped which she paid for at the rate of $5 a week. That first year she drove over 12,000 miles around San Jose, much of it dictated by a better paying job which was some distance away. A newer and better apartment was rented and that, in turn, replaced by a mobile home. Today she owns a three-bedroom house in San Jose.  

After graduating from SJCC, Opal moved on to San Jose State where she earned a degree in engineering. Today her success allows her to enjoy going on cruises, and until the pandemic she took two or sometimes three cruises a year. Opal has a beautiful singing voices and is called by many the Queen of Karaoke. By far, Opal would be my most noteworthy student.

There are others, of course, and another I will never forget was a young woman from New Jersey recruited to come to SJCC to play basketball. Arbatisha Kitchen, called Kitch by her friends, was an incredibly talented player.

After graduating from SJCC, she went to Arizona State on a full basketball scholarship, and she was a starter there for two years. In 1998 our women’s basketball team won the State Championship, and my wife and I were honored to pay for Kitch’s grandmother’s airfare to fly from New Jersey on her very first airplane ride to see Kitch play. 

Is there a funny experience you remember about SJCC that you’d like to share?

One of the funny things that happened to me in 1986 was a parking ticket. I was parked by our old library and was amused to notice that there were three side-by-side spaces reserved for the college president. His car was parked in one, so I parked in another. Unfortunately, I found a City of San Jose parking ticket on my windshield when I returned to my car.

The next day I went to the campus police office spoke with our police chief. “There are three reserved spots for the president, so I don’t think there should be a problem if he’s already using another one.” The chief responded by saying ‘tough’, adding an adjective to that. It was only an $11 ticket, but I responded that I wasn’t going to pay it.

The next day I walked through all the parking lots on campus and discovered over four dozen spaces with names of individuals who no longer were on the faculty or, in several instances, were deceased. I brought this information to the chief, and he said “Too bad, you have to pay the ticket.” I told him I would go to traffic court and fight it.

After leaving his office, I contact the City College Times and told the advisor my story. In the next issue, it was the front-page story. On the date scheduled for my traffic court appearance, I got phone call from the chief who informed me that if I came over to his office, he would forgive my ticket. I responded that this wouldn’t work because I had three classes to teach.

I gave him the option of coming to my 10:00 class where I expected him to stand in front of the class and formally forgive my ticket. A very unhappy looking chief did just that and was greeted with applause and laughter from the students.

The following weekend, two of my friends on the faculty, Jack Burrows and Eliot Wirt, came over to school with stencils they had made and they spent several hours spray painting RESERVED FOR CHUCK HUNTER on forty-five parking spaces in the faculty lot. 

When I came to school Monday and saw what they had done, I called the campus police and said, “There are people in the faculty lot parked in my spaces and I’d like you to come out and ticket them.”

Within a very short time, I received a phone call from Chancellor Dick Goff who said, “This isn’t funny! I want you to come to the District Office this afternoon to talk.” Upon arriving, he ushered me into his office and closed the door, whereupon we both burst into laughter. I assured him I wouldn’t do it again!

By the time I returned to campus, the grounds crew was almost finished painting over the offending signs with black paint. That’s my favorite funny memory of City College. There are many more, but this one sticks out.

“…they spent several hours spray painting RESERVED FOR CHUCK HUNTER on forty-five parking spaces in the faculty lot.”

a humorous moment during chuck hunter’s SJCC tenure

Lastly, how has SJCC changed your life?

It provided me with a touchstone. I figured I was meant to be a teacher when I was in the navy which I joined right after high school. My parents thought I should be a doctor, which held no interest to me. 

I was stationed on board a destroyer for two years and had a most unusual rating. I was both the mailman and a teletype operator, and it didn’t take me long to befriend two members of the crew. They stood out because they were WWII vets who had been drafted despite the fact that they both were illiterate.

Both were from small towns in the south, and when they received mail, the printed addresses had the appearance of having been written by elementary age children. Most of their letters were from either their mothers or girlfriends. 

They would ask me to read their mail to them in the small compartment which served as the ship’s post office. When we came to port, these two friends were stereotypical drunken sailors, and after leaving port they would dictate letters to their new-found loves. Much of what I wrote I was embarrassed to put on paper, but doing so provided me with my career path.

It made me want to know how to teach people to read and write, because both of these men were obviously intelligent. One, a gunner’s mate first class, was able to do rapid mathematical calculations in his head which was accurate enough that our destroyer won the E for excellence in gunnery for the two years I served aboard.  

I have never regretted my decision to become a teacher, and hopefully my efforts have resulted in positive changes in the lives of the students who were taught to think critically and to objectively evaluate what they hear and see in my classes. I am extremely proud of our youngest son who is a teacher, and who, through his example, is carrying on this tradition.

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