On October 4, 1977 I began my very first teaching job at Stephen F. Austin Elementary School as a 2nd grade teacher. After graduating from UTSA in August, I began the nerve-racking process of interviewing for jobs. Called by God to be a teacher at the age of 6, I was so eager to begin teaching that I finished my degree in 3 years. I got several interviews for positions to no avail. However, as the school year started, back when it started after Labor Day, and the weeks passed I was becoming very discouraged. I had wanted to teach in one of the suburban school districts where I had student taught near my house. However, on Friday, September 30th, I got a call from a friend who worked in the UTSA Education department placement office asking if I would be interested in teaching in the inner city San Antonio Independent School District. By then, I wanted to teach so much I jumped at the chance and drove downtown to the district office to interview. I was asked if I would be willing to get my bilingual endorsement through a district program which I readily agreed to do. An appointment was set up with the principal for Monday morning. After I interviewed I was offered the job. He explained that an overflow of 1st & 2nd grade students made it necessary to form a new 2nd grade class and the current 2nd grade teacher would form a class of half 1st and half 2nd grade students. Then he asked me when I could start. With the complete naivete of a 1st year teacher who was eager to get started, I said that the best way I could see would be to start the next day!
Stephen F. Austin Elementary was in a 100 year old building with no air-conditioning and radiator heat. The classrooms were huge with 20 foot ceilings. Half of the campus housed 2 kindergartens, 2 1st grades, 1 1st-2nd grade split, 1 2nd grade, 1 3rd grade, 1 4th grade & 1 5th grade. Half of the campus housed 14-18 year old mentally-retarded students who were bussed in from around the district. All 200 students shared 1 bathroom, 1 cafeteria and 1 playground. The surrounding neighborhood was made up of what were once beautiful victorian-style houses but were now run-down multiple family dwellings. The school was the heart of this low-income Hispanic community.
On my first day I was shown room 4. Inside the bright yellow classroom with original slate chalkboards there was 1 teacher’s chair, 1 student-height rectangular table, and 2 student desks. There was a large shelved walk-in closet for supplies but there was not one single piece of paper, pencil, or book. I had brought a notepad and pen. I moved the table and teacher’s chair to the front of the classroom. I was told that the students would be moved down from the other classroom later in the morning with their desks, books and supplies. I think I was in shock sitting in that room, but, before I could think too much, they brought me a new student! Sweet Sophie, my very first student, was a blessing as she kept me focused so I couldn’t get nervous as I was so busy making sure she felt comfortable. Looking back on that I’ve wondered what on earth must have been going through her mind when they brought her into that room that day, but, one thing for sure. I’ve never forgotten my very first student! A few minutes later 20 students with their desks full of books and papers were moved in and their teacher had duplicated worksheets for the day. That first day was a blur for me. I do know I made it through those first few days developing what eventually earned me the title of Queen of Improvisation! My sister-in-law, Cecie, had taught for three amazing years and stopped teaching and graciously offered me all her teaching materials. So after those first few days of managing with next to nothing, we went to Houston and got them and on Monday morning of the next week I had something to put in that walk-n closet. During my 3 years at that school I obtained such a variety of pieces of furniture and painted them in bright primary colors and many other materials. From that experience of nothing in that classroom on that first day , on the last day I was there I filled that closet for the summer. Teachers would come and ask if they could have things and I told them I wasn’t going to leave it vacant for the next teacher who came into the room! The adventure had just begun!