Some 5.2 million children, more than the populations of 28 states, are beginning another year in Texas public schools, where 600,000 teachers and other school employees will make their needs a priority. Our neighborhood schools are the anchors of our local communities, and they come alive this time every year.
Door-to-door, neighborhood-to-neighborhood, we educators — teachers, teacher aides, bus drivers and other school staff — touch millions of families in a very positive way. And every school year starts with hope and excitement because of the value of what we do.
Our influence is felt whenever we arrive at school early or stay late to tutor a struggling student, to help her understand a new math concept, to learn to read at grade level or to learn English.
Our influence is felt whenever we help a single, poverty-stricken mom purchase medication for her son so he can attend his special education class.
And, our influence is felt whenever we dig into our own pockets to buy school supplies.
Educators are champions for children and their families, and people know that. They know what we do and that we do it very well. We know we could do more.
We could do more if state policymakers put more resources into our classrooms.
We could do more if so many of our classrooms weren’t overcrowded.
And, we could do more if policymakers would stop the plague of excessive testing and give us more time to teach and our students more time to learn. “Invest, not test” is a principle that should drive our educational policy.
The challenges facing Texas schools are significant. Sixty percent of our students are from low-income families. Thousands don’t have access to adequate health care, and many don’t speak English — or don’t speak English very well.
But we educators are prepared to turn those challenges into opportunities — to make lasting, positive impacts on our students and their families. We earn a priceless sense of satisfaction every time we share an “aha” moment with a child, when we see a light come on in a child’s eye as she grasps a new concept and moves a step closer to a brighter future.
Every new school year begins with hope and excitement. But for some children, it also can be a time of fear and intimidation.
I remember when a 5-year-old boy arrived for his first day of kindergarten at LeBarron Park Elementary in the Ysleta Independent School District not too many years ago. He was terrified, mainly because he didn’t speak a lick of English. His family spoke only Spanish at home.
But a teacher’s aide — Mrs. Pineda — patiently took extra time to ease his anxiety and work with him on developing English skills and building a platform for his future academic success.
I was that little boy, and I remain eternally grateful to Mrs. Pineda and the many others who helped me along the way.
Thousands of little boys and girls will enter kindergarten and pre-K this year. They will include future doctors, CEOs, scientists, astronauts and, yes, future teachers. And, thousands of teachers, teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, office assistants and other school employees will begin showing them the way to success.
Candelaria is president of the Texas State Teachers Association.