The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Teacher speaks with art, signing

By Jonathan Resendez/south news editor

Jeff Nichols can speak more languages with his hands than most people can with their mouths.

He has done missionary work and taught in eight different countries. He has taught every grade level from pre-kindergarten to college. He is also a father and a student.

In his spare time, Nichols paints. His exhibit Ethnic Portraits that Touch the Heart is featured in one of the galleries at the Rose Marine Theater in north Fort Worth through March 13. All these things don’t include Nichols’ full-time job, teaching Spanish I and II Pre-Advanced Placement at Bedford Junior High.

“I was very inspired by my Spanish teacher, who made Spanish come alive for me,” he said.

The Arlington native grew up in Pasadena, Texas. He said his work ethic comes from his mother, who was an artist, and his father, a writer and editor for a newspaper.

“They were both perfectionists,” he said. “So I grew up with a perfectionist’s mentality. I’m that way with my artwork too.”

He has signed for more than 30 years. He befriended several deaf members of Christ for the Nations, a bible college in Dallas where he also became friends with students from Mexico City.

Nichols said that after Christ for the Nations, he went to work in an orphanage in Monterrey, Mexico.

“That’s where I really picked up my Spanish well,” he said, “surrounded by a hundred Mexican kids that knew no English.”

He eventually went back and earned a bachelor’s in Spanish/linguistics from the University of Texas at Arlington, then received a grant from Southern Methodist University to study bilingual education. That’s when he got a master’s degree. 

Although Spanish was becoming a part of his life, he didn’t forget his other skills. Nichols learned the sign language of each country he moved to, including Mexico and Taiwan. He didn’t forget his art either, painting a mural of a little girl that stayed at the orphanage where he worked.

Nichols has taught everything from English as a second language in Taiwan to Spanish-American sign language in Puerto Rico. He painted portraits of people he met in each country, saying that his paintings allowed him to keep a piece of them.

While teaching at South Houston Elementary, he was commissioned by the school to paint a large mural that depicted many of the school’s children in a jungle.

“I’ve been paid to do several paintings,” he said. “But none that paid quite as well as that one.”

Nichols has left his mark on buildings that are dedicated to helping around the world. In Haiti, he painted murals on a hospital and an orphanage.

Nichols said that he hadn’t put much thought into showing his works in galleries until a couple of months ago when he sold a painting he did in the Philippines and had originally given to someone 20 years ago.

“They were moving and couldn’t take the picture with them. They gave it back to me, and I sold it to a woman for a very nice price. It excited me and I thought I should do an art show again,” he said.

Nichols said he enjoys teaching at TCC at the end of the week because it offers a breath of fresh air after teaching junior high. He said his students seem more willing to learn at the college level.

“Many of my students say time goes by fast when they pay attention,” he said. “I like to make my teaching enjoyable for all. I like to immerse my students by doing more than just speaking in Spanish.”

Nichols plans to earn certification in sign language again by taking an upper level course on NW. He said that sitting in the student’s chair and knowing what it feels like helps make him a better teacher.

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