Carlos Castillo teaches social studies and coordinates the Teen Court at Roosevelt High School in L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood. Before participating in a panel on how schools should discipline children, he explained why he won’t eat tongue, how he was inspired to take shorter showers, and what karaoke song he’s most likely to sing.
What do you wake up to?
I wake up to NPR every day. That’s what I’ve been doing for a long, long time. A professor recommended it when I was in college. That or my 1-year-old son crying.
What animal would you want to be?
Definitely a dog. Get to stay home all day after getting walked and fed and just chill out, sunbathe? I mean, why not? Seems like the life. I’d like to be one of my dogs, I guess I should say.
What teacher or professor changed your life, if any?
There were several, but I always talk to my students about my third grade teacher, Mr. Duncanwood—it was both his wife’s and his last name, merged—that’s one of the things I learned from him. That’s the first teacher of mine who did that, and he tried to explain it to us, third graders, and it was a real equity thing that he saw: He said it’s not right that a woman loses her last name, so my wife and I merged our two last names. It’s just an example of the kinds of things he was talking to us about as third graders.
What’s the last habit you tried to kick?
It has to do with my 1-year-old son, just trying to let him explore and not be so protective. Also, just not being too lenient. I’m still trying to kick that habit. It differs depending on what situation I’m in.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Probably Biz Markie, “Just a Friend,” just because it seems so easy to sing. So that’s probably my go-to karaoke song, if I was forced to get up here and had to sing a song. Which you’re not, right?
How would your students describe you in five words or less?
I’d say that they would describe me as strict but fair. I want to say interesting and open-minded.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
I was listening to the radio, and there was this young man who created what he calls a “dry bath.” He developed this gel that people basically apply on themselves so they can just clean off with a damp cloth. He said he understands that most of the world still washes or bathes with the bucket method—basically, where you boil water and take a bath using a bucket—and how difficult it is to take a bath that way, and western societies who have so much access to water don’t understand that. He said, you know, water is precious, and his prediction is we’re going to fight wars over it soon, and we need to figure out a way to conserve it. The last two or three days I’ve been trying to take really short showers—I’m so consumed by what he said that I think, I have to be that person. This guy’s calling me to action! So I’m on this water conservation thing now. I hope it lasts.
Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
In high school we used to call ourselves the Chickenhawks, a circle of friends I had, because we were smaller guys, but we walked around feeling bigger than we really were.
What food won’t you eat?
Cow tongue. Very popular Mexican food, cow tongue tacos, and my mom makes, according to my sisters, delicious cow tongue, but I just wouldn’t eat it. I used to, but then I saw it, and I couldn’t eat it anymore.
Winter or Summer Olympics?
Summer, definitely. Cycling is my favorite sport so it has to be summer.