Education

His students found success in TV and movies. Now he’s Teacher of the Year

Rudolfo Diaz, center, of South Miami Senior High School, who is the 2018 Francisco R. Walker Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year, celebrates with Mari Tere Rojas, school board member, left, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, right, on Thursday January 26, 2017.
Rudolfo Diaz, center, of South Miami Senior High School, who is the 2018 Francisco R. Walker Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year, celebrates with Mari Tere Rojas, school board member, left, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, right, on Thursday January 26, 2017. cjuste@miamiherald.com

For a testament to Rudy Diaz’s teaching, look no further than the local and national news.

The South Miami High TV production teacher has mentored students who have gone on to produce for national TV programs, report for South Florida news stations, operate cameras, make films and everything in between.

“They make me so proud when I see they’ve accomplished so much,” Diaz said of his former students, whose portraits hang on the walls of the school’s TV studio. Over nearly 30 years, Diaz has taught his students every aspect of TV production through a daily broadcast that the students live-stream for their classmates, and he has prepared them for the changing media landscape through experiments with new technology like drones and virtual reality.

“He’s just so excited all the time; he’s so passionate,” said former student Julia Bagg, a reporter for NBC 6 South Florida. “He’s the kind of person that he can’t contain his own excitement, his own passion for what he’s teaching. He loves his craft, but he loves his kids way more.”

Diaz’s passion and commitment to his students was recognized Thursday at an awards dinner where he was named Miami-Dade County’s 2018 Francisco R. Walker Teacher of the Year. Diaz was one of four finalists chosen from more than 18,000 Miami-Dade teachers, and he will now go on to compete for the state title, which will be awarded in July. Diaz also got a new car from Kendall Toyota as a prize, and $5,000 from Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who also donated $1,000 to each of the other finalists. Dontricia Jones, a teacher at Norland Elementary, was named Rookie Teacher of the Year.

A former cameraman, editor and producer at Univision, Diaz went into teaching in 1988 after four years and three Emmys in the news business. Diaz said that although he enjoyed working in TV, he became a teacher because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

“I came from the industry, and I’m a perfect example of someone that maybe was making more money and I decided to go into teaching because I find it so rewarding,” Diaz told the Miami Herald.

Diaz’s former students remember both the practical skills their beloved teacher taught them and the life lessons he shared.

“There’s no way I would be where I am today in my career if it weren’t for Rudy Diaz,” said Jesse Rodriguez, a South Miami alumnus who is a senior producer for MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Rodriguez said Diaz’s class prepared him to start a job in TV news right out of high school and that what Diaz taught him about production has stayed with him ever since.

“He really was like a second father to me,” Rodriguez said. “He was always concerned about us, always there for us whenever we needed him, just an amazing, amazing human being,” Rodriguez said.

Although Bagg has reported for news stations across the country, she said it’s Diaz’s tips she hears in her head while she’s working. “I don’t want to do a package or a story that would disappoint him,” she said laughing.

“He’s somebody you want to make proud. He’s so devoted. He makes you feel like you’re his own kid,” Bagg said. “I think back to all of my teachers — and I feel like I had a great education and lots of great teachers — but he just stands out in that he would do anything for his students.”

“My only hope is that he never retires,” she added. “I’m serious.”

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