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Dalia Aleman, La Joya Independent School District’s Secondary Teacher of the Year, barely remembers living with her family in a vehicle, but does remember when times were hard for her, putting herself through school and living on $600 a month.
She doesn’t hide this fact from her students either. Aleman says she shares her own life experiences with her students. She wants them to see her as human, that she is someone’s daughter, a sister and a mother. She shares her struggles and how she got to where she is at today – with hard work.
Aleman shares how she was a divorced mother of two putting herself through school and trying to make a living.
“I tell them I know what it is like to be poor, but I also tell them that what they choose to make of their lives is up to them,” said Aleman. She isn’t afraid to tell them she had a Lone Star Card and it is okay to get help when you need it, “As long as you use it to better your life.”
Aleman comes from a family that had it hard before things were good. Her mother only spoke Spanish while she was growing up and only had a third grade education. Her father spoke very little English and dropped out of seventh grade. Her parents worked long hours in fields and even traveled up north to work in fields when the work was there. They often slept in their vehicle with their children.
“All this just to survive and put food on the table,” says Aleman.
Being the youngest, she says she did not have many of the hardships her siblings had, but she knew that her parents have always worked hard just to give the family the basic necessities of life. Her parents also taught them about the value of an education, says Aleman, but each had a different way teaching the message.
Her father, the disciplinarian, taught her to respect the teachers and to not give the teachers any problems, because they would have a bigger problem at home. It was either being taught by books, or by discipline.
Her mother was the softie. She taught with words of wisdom.
“Educate yourselves so that you don’t have to suffer like we do. I don’t want to see you all in the fields when you grow up,” is what Aleman remembers her mother telling her and her siblings.
Or “Study hard, or I will tell your dad.”
Aleman had a teacher neighbor who took her under her wing. Mrs. Soza taught then four-year-old Aleman her how to read. She instilled the love of reading in her young neighbor and prepared her for public school. As luck would have it, said Aleman, Soza happened to be her kindergarten teacher when she began kindergarten. She remembers telling Soza that she never wanted to leave kindergarten and “I want to be a teacher just like you.”
Aleman became the student that answered questions without giving other students a chance or even before the teacher finished asking the question. She eventually learned to wait and the strategy that is now called ‘wait time,’ giving students time to answer a question.
Aleman would make good grades on everything except conduct, because she talked too much, spoke out of turn, and answered for other students.
Another influence on her educational career was a high school teacher, Mr. Thigpen. He taught Aleman English and Literature for 10th-12th grade. She admired his style of teaching and she credits her own teaching style to his. She can vividly recall his hand gestures as her played the parts of the different characters in the stories the class would read. He brought those characters to life for us, said Aleman. His passion made us a captive audience.
She now plays the parts of characters for her students to get them involved and captivated in the story and lessons.
Her final inspiration was her cousin, Janie Perez, now an assistant principal at Palmview High School. She often spent time with her cousin when she first started teaching and saw how her she got to know all of her students, and how she had a story about each student. Aleman found her caring manner toward her students admirable and now uses that manner herself, getting to know her students.
“She is the reason I am a teacher and is the person who encouraged me to apply at La Joya ISD,” said Aleman about her cousin.
Aleman graduated in 2001 from University of Texas-Pan American with a bachelor of arts in history and a minor in speech communications. She graduated from Banquete High School, just east of Robstown. She started working at Memorial Middle School in 2001 and has been there since. She teaches eighth grade social studies.
Aleman says the lack of motivation in students is one of the major issues in public education today. Students don’t strive to get a better grade than their classmates anymore, she says. She said students should be rewarded only for their achievements, not for expectations.
She said so many of the students have the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude.
Praise and encouragement can be as simple as a high-five for a job well done or a pat on the shoulder for turning an assignment in. Recognize students by displaying their work, said Aleman, or having them share it in class.
The smile on the students’ faces is priceless.
The number one thing Aleman says to do as a teacher is to take time to know your students, build a rapport with them, and the educational process will go along much smoother.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.