From Fowler to Pamplona

Spanish Teacher John Summers reflects on his adventures



Summers spoke at the Thanksgiving assembly this fall.

Standing at just about six feet tall and sporting a salt and pepper beard, John “Senor” Summers is one of the more popular teachers at BHS.

“I respect his enthusiasm for teaching,” sophomore Sam Connor said.

“I’ve really enjoyed his class, and I can really relate to him,” said sophomore Josh Lazar.

Summers is in his “27th magical year” of teaching Spanish at Beachwood.

His classroom is a lot like his life: colorful, interesting and filled with mementos of Spanish language and culture.

A Spanish flag hangs in the back of the room. The sports section of El Nuevo Herald (the Spanish edition of The Miami Herald) sits nearby. Gifts from students, including a t-shirt and a “Spanish teachers only” parking sign, adorn the walls.

Perhaps the most striking example of Spanish culture, however, is a print of the stunning View From Toledo by El Greco.

Summers was raised in Fowler, Ohio, a small town situated in Trumbull County, about 75 minutes away from Beachwood.

“I grew up on a farm, so I worked year round,” he said. “I was pretty much the laborer because my dad got to drive the tractor and do all the machinery. We grew [the crops] ourselves and had it ground to feed for the animals.”

Summers’ family owned almost 200 acres. His jobs included planting and harvesting crops such as corn, oats and wheat. He tended to the cattle, and in the summer he baled hay.

“We had one [cow]. I remember that he was so tame that my dad would put us on its back,” Summers said.

Summers is proud of his background.

“I’m glad I had the experience of growing up in the country, to see how hard work can really pay off,” he said. “At the time I didn’t [appreciate] it because I was sort of a restless romantic wanting to travel the world.”

He took his first Spanish class in 9th grade and failed his first Spanish test.

Despite his rough start, Summers won the Spanish Student of the Year award his sophomore year, and he never looked back.

His father sat him down one day and asked about his plans for the future. None of his five older sisters had gone to college, but he said that he did plan to go to college.

Summers went to nearby Youngstown State for a year and a quarter, living at home. He then transferred to Kent State, where he completed his undergraduate degree.

“I just didn’t want to live at home anymore,” he said. “I wanted to have more of a campus experience, so that’s when I looked around and transferred to Kent.”

During college, Summers spent a semester abroad living in Merida, Mexico, the capital of the state of Yucatan. That was when his love for Spanish blossomed.

“[Living in Mexico] for a semester, I became pretty much fluent,” he said. “It opened up my love of traveling.”

“Like I always tell the students, there’s a whole other world out there besides Beachwood,” he added.

Some time during his time in Mexico, Summers’ love for teaching also blossomed as he helped his Mexican host family to learn English.

“I think that’s sort of when the two paths crossed,” he said.

Summers’ love of traveling is apparent when looking around his room. The walls are adorned with posters, newspapers and pictures from other countries. He has traveled to such exotic locales such as Costa Rica, Guatemala and Portugal.

In 1989, while traveling in with a friend, Summers participated in the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

“[They were] getting closer and closer, and I was running as fast as I could. Finally, the bull was right behind me, and I just stepped back into this doorway of a store, which was kind of a stupid thing to do, because if the bull turned on me, and I had nowhere to go.”

— Senor Summers

“It was one of the scariest moments of my life,” he said.

“(We started running), and it wasn’t but half a minute and the bulls were right behind me,” he said.

“(They were) getting closer and closer, and I was running as fast as I could,” Summers recalled. “Finally, the bull was right behind me, and I just stepped back into this doorway of a store, which was kind of a stupid thing to do, because if the bull turned on me, and I had nowhere to go.”

After being told by a child that the last of the bulls had passed him, Summers stepped out into the street, and almost got trampled by the females. His friend, however, was not so lucky.

“I couldn’t find my friend anywhere…finally I found him, and he was all bloodied up; he [had gotten] trampled by the bulls,” he said.

In addition to fostering his love for traveling, the Spanish language has allowed Summers to do many things besides just teaching. He has been a big brother in the Spanish organization Esperanza, and other unique experiences.

“I can go off the beaten path when I go to other countries,” he said.

Summers lives with his wife and two daughters in Mentor. He is also no slouch outside of teaching. He has an affinity for pop culture, often referencing sings in his church choir, plays guitar and participates in a bowling league.

He also has a history advising extracurricular activities in Beachwood. At one point or another over the past 27 years, he has coached baseball, girls basketball, and girls volleyball at Beachwood Middle School

Summers did not enjoy coaching volleyball.

“For one horrible year. All they did is scream and lose,” he said. “With counseling, I’ve almost gotten past it.”

Currently, he is the advisor for Amnesty International.

Even though teaching consumes most of Summers’ time during the year, he appreciates having his summers mostly free besides taking classes on Spanish, which allows him to travel and pursue other hobbies.

“That’s the thing about teaching. It’s very hectic, and there isn’t a lot of time except in the summer,” he said.

“When I go home, it doesn’t end [compared to] other people’s jobs, which do.”