Class Act: Math teacher Rafael Contreras


Fareen Dhuka

Contreras teaches Euclidean Geometry and AB Calculus.

Aatiqah Aziz and Ashley Yen

When he was 16 years old, Rafael Contreras left his home in Mexico and emigrated with his family to El Paso. Although Contreras had attended a bilingual school, he wasn’t conversational in English when he moved to the United States.

“It was difficult that way, but that’s the reason I learned so fast,” Contreras said. “I really couldn’t communicate any other way.”

After earning his Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Texas at El Paso, Contreras moved to Houston to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Houston and work in the engineering sector. While at UH, Contreras began tutoring students and realized he enjoyed working more as a tutor than as an engineer.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re born to do something, and math is one of those things,” Contreras said.

Contreras’ first teaching job was at Dekaney High School located in Spring Branch ISD where he taught five courses: Precalculus Pre-AP, AP Calculus AB, AP Statistics, Calculus and Math Modeling.

“It took a lot of time, but it was manageable.” Contreras said. “To teach precalculus all day would have been tiring, so it was nice.”

At St. John’s, Contreras teaches two Euclidean Geometry classes and two Calculus classes. According to Math Department Chair Martha Childress, Contreras has adjusted well to his new environment.

“His transition to St. John’s has been really smooth,” Childress said. “He clearly loves teaching and is very supportive of students.”

His students recognize his love for math and teaching.  

“He’s very helpful, and he’s very nice,” freshman Hannah Garrou said. “He spends time with students individually if they don’t understand something.”

In his free time, Contreras enjoys playing video games and dining at Houston’s diverse selection of restaurants.

Contreras said he appreciates the welcoming atmosphere of the St. John’s community.

“Everybody’s just so happy to be here,” Contreras said. “Here, I am really teaching, and I am teaching very intelligent young people that understand what you’re talking about and want to learn.”