When Alicia Garcia addresses her students at La Joya ISD, one of the most low-income school districts in the state, she has a better idea than most about the challenges they face.
She was born in Los Ebanos and grew up a product of La Joya Independent School District before dropping out in 1974. Garcia later went back and obtained her GED. In 1981, she took a job as a library clerk for the district while taking basic courses at South Texas Community College. Over the next decade, she moved up to instructional assistant and eventually became a HOSTS teacher. In those years, Garcia said she learned a lot about teaching while watching others.
By 1991, Garcia was appointed a first-grade teacher at J.F.K. Elementary on an emergency teaching permit while working toward a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at Pan American University. She earned her degree in 1995.
Garcia, now a second-grade teacher at J.F.K. Elementary, is this year’s elementary Teacher of the Year at La Joya ISD.
“A dream is but a dream until someone like me comes along to lovingly transform it to reality, and no, my outstanding accomplishments will not become a mere statistic, for it is through my love, commitment, determination, initiative, and diligence that I am (proof) that I too was one of the many best teachers there can be … and the dream goes on,” Garcia wrote in her application for teacher of the year.
In her time as a teacher, Garcia has walked the streets in her community, visiting with parents and asking them to come by the school. She’s participated in community bingo events, the Peñitas WhiteWing Festival and district parades. Garcia said she believes successful schools work with the community to produce successful students.
A student’s education isn’t solely the result of spending eight hours a day in the classroom, she said.
After 33 years of teaching, Garcia said she now knows there is no “right way” to reach a student, so she uses a variety of methods. She’s learned a lot from other teachers, and Garcia said it’s important for teachers to be open to changing their approach in the classroom.
“Teaching must always be centered on the needs of the individual student and not a group setting,” Garcia said. “We often make the mistake of trying to teach every student as if we are working on a conveyor line of future leaders.”
Garcia believes the true measure for a teacher doesn’t come from test results, but from parents who come to her classroom and ask, “How did you get them to read?” or say, “My son/daughter thinks highly of you.” Parental feedback should be used as an accountability tool, she said.
“After becoming a teacher, my colleagues would request for their own children to become my students,” Garcia said. “I have been very lucky to see my previous students grow up to be successful members of society in their professional career.”