Why Ricky Martin Is Unapologetically a Part of My Classroom

Charles VerheyELA

May 16, 2019
Aimee Ross

Wait—before you assume that’s just plain weird and click on a story with more educational value, at least hear me out.

First of all, I have been in love with Latin pop superstar Ricky Martin for 20 years now—that’s longer than my first marriage.

Everyone in my worldly sphere knows. My husband knows. My children know. In fact, all of my family and friends know. Different colleagues with whom I’ve networked over the years—even those across the nation—know. My students, especially my students—all of them, current and former—know. Actually, I’m pretty sure most of the tri-county area, maybe even state of Ohio, knows.

I get texts, phone calls, and emails about it. It’s all over my social media: Facebook posts, hashtags and tweets, forwarded Instas. I used to even blog about it.

All these years, it’s never been a secret to anyone.

Except Ricky.

Which is a shame really. I mean, we have so much in common, it’s almost scary!

For example, Ricky played a substitute Spanish teacher on the hit TV show Glee once, and I’ve been a real-life high school English teacher for 27 years now. He also referenced a Shakespearean leading lady—Juliet—in his song, “Shake Your Bon-Bon.” I reference a Shakespearean leading lady—Desdemona—every year when I teach Othello. (But that’s not all—I like to call Desdemona’s cousin “Livin’ La” Lodovico.)

The similarities don’t end there, though. Ricky has been a guest judge on both Dancing with the Stars and The Voice, and I have guest judged at so many cheerleading and dance team tryouts that I’ve lost count! Ricky was the Spanish voice of Disney’s Hercules a few years back, and I was once photographed with Disney’s Cinderella. And on the red carpet, no less.

But get this: Not only has Ricky written and had his memoir, Me, published, but so. Have. I! Not kidding.

I know. Crazy.

I’m sure you’re now wondering how this one-sided love affair happened. That’s a great story—thanks for asking.

I was living the perfect storybook life, married to my high school sweetheart and the mother of two little girls when I fell hopelessly in love—at first sight—with him.

I was in the heart of Europe—Warsaw, Poland—on a Holocaust study tour with 50 other teachers from around the United States, my first overseas trip. Learning about the Holocaust both fascinated and disgusted me, and I knew that my time there, and in Israel the couple of weeks following, would better prepare me to teach about it. But I was out of my element. I hadn’t been alone or just Aimee—not wife, mom, teacher—in several years. It was weird.

Every morning at about the same time, I heard the rousing chant of the object of my affection on MTV Europe—the only Polish channel I could understand. “Go, go, go! Allez, allez, allez!” he shouted and sang. I was enchanted.

Who was this beautiful man with the velvety voice and energetic dance moves?

Two weeks later, the song still echoing in my brain, I repeated the lyrics to an Israeli music store salesman to find out who it was that I had fallen in love with.

A smile immediately crossed his face in recognition.

“Aaahhh, Ricky Martin,” he responded, handing me a compilation CD with “The Cup of Life” on it.

But then I returned home to real life, my third pregnancy and teaching, and forgot about Ricky.

Until February 24, 1999: The 41st Grammy Awards.

Ricky reappeared out of nowhere from once upon a time: still beautiful, still energetic, and still singing the same catchy song.

Oh my God, it’s him, I thought, and I was quickly under his spell again, charmed once more by my European MTV crush.

Ricky Martin was perfection to me, visually and musically—a flawless, romantic, Latin hero—and he came to symbolize more than just the soundtrack of my first trip abroad or my first stab at true independence. Ricky gave me something to believe in—something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but something I longed for—and I couldn’t get enough of him or his music, no matter the language it was in.

I’ve been in love with him ever since.

When students found out about my Ricky Martin love affair—I’m sure I confessed—they started bringing in anything Ricky they could find. Soon, the modest Ricky photo collection that had started on the insides of my book cabinet’s metal doors began to spread, spilling posters, calendars, cards, and stickers all over my classroom walls.

Students added to it regularly, eventually growing it to behemoth proportions. They even nicknamed it “The Ricky Shrine.”

And I love that. I love him.

“If we ever walk in and candles are lit, we’re calling the men in white coats to take you away,” my students have joked.

“Go ahead,” I’d joke back.

“Choose: your husband or Ricky,” students have teased.

“Nah, I couldn’t,” I’d claim in mock sincerity.

“He’s probably gay,” students would say.

“So what?” I’d say back.

For almost 20 years now, Ricky has been a permanent fixture of my classroom—sometimes, I even consider him my co-teacher. Especially when students ask questions about him, and I get to share—ahem, model—all the research I’ve done. Even students can see that we—Ricky and I—really do have things in common.

He’s a proud humanitarian who has built houses for Habitat for Humanity after earthquakes in Thailand, Haiti, and Chile, as well as the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and I am a proud educator, confident of my efforts to teach students and other teachers about the Holocaust. While Ricky was transforming from Latin heartthrob to one of the best-known child welfare humanitarians in the Third World, even creating his own foundation, I was traveling to Germany and Poland, becoming a regional educator for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and sharing resources across the nation with other educators.

In a 2010 CNN interview about his philanthropic work for the Ricky Martin Foundation, Ricky said that heroes represent “the best of ourselves, respecting that we are human beings.” Heroes, according to Ricky, can be anyone from “Gandhi to your classroom teacher, anyone who can show courage when faced with a problem. A hero is someone who is willing to help others in his or her best capacity. It can be someone teaching another to write, saving someone in danger, or giving up your life for another.”

And I love that. I love him.

Then, while writing his autobiography, Ricky came out publicly as a proud homosexual man.

“Did you know he’s gay?” students sometimes still ask me. Like that matters.

“Did you know his grandmother was a professor who wrote a couple of books, and his great-grandmother was a teacher?” I answer.

As time passes, though, not many students know who Ricky Martin is.

“Who’s that guy?” they ask, pointing at his posters or the life-size cutout of him standing in the corner of my room.

And then I tell them our story and how much we have in common, or I sing the lyrics to “Shake Your Bon-Bon,” “She Bangs,” or “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” the song they all associate with Shrek. Sometimes, I even show his music videos. It is my cultural duty to educate them, after all.

And they love it.

They love that their middle-aged, married, new grandma, goofy English instructor is “in love” with a gay, Latino singer, or as they put it, “Totally crushing like a fangirl.”

My crush makes me unique in their eyes. It makes me human.

So, I have come to accept the fact that one day, after I have retired, after 37 years or more of teaching Chaucer and Shakespeare, essay writing and literary analysis, vocabulary, annotation, and grammar, the indelible mark I will have left on education at Loudonville High school will be one of two ironically related things: my love of Ricky Martin or my passion for teaching about the Holocaust.

Unless a strange turn of events happened between now and then.

“What would you do if Ricky walked through your classroom door right now?” students ask me all the time.

They would not be fazed, I know. I, however, am another story.

“Oh my God, I would die,” I tell them, crushing like a fangirl, not intending hyperbole. Because I probably would. Right there in Room 110. Doing what I love, being who I am.

Aimee Ross

Aimee Ross is a nationally award-winning educator and writer who teaches secondary English at her high school alma mater in Loudonville, Ohio. Her first book, Permanent Marker: A Memoir (KiCam Projects), came out last March, and she has had numerous essays published online and in anthologies. Aimee is a former regional educator for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and teacher consultant for the National Writing Project at the local level. Learn more at theaimeeross.com.