First teaching job: 1959
by Jo Gray
Even before I had a college diploma, I was hired to teach a
fourth-grade class in a suburb of El Paso, Texas. Hired on what was
called an "emergency teaching certificate", I was to receive $3,354
for the entire year.
The class of 42 students included 14 social promotions, 18
Spanish-speaking migrant workers' children, and a few students of
mixed parents. For the most part, they were from a low-income area
where classes were not as important as a daily meal or the rent
payment. They preferred to get through the day without causing
This was a time when the elementary classroom teacher had full
responsibility of her class. There was no teacher aide or parent
volunteer. No special classes for those who did not understand
My knowledge of Spanish was limited to high school classes in which we
were taught the "formal" version of the language. That presented more
of a problem than I had imagined it would. The students who understood
both Spanish and English would often help those who did not comprehend
However, no one told me how to correctly pronounce the name
of one individual student until he had been marked absent for two
On a Monday morning of the third week of classes, the school principal
walked into my class room, walked over to a small Mexican student in
the back row and said, "Where have you been?"
Without looking up, the boy replied, "Nowhere."
"But you have been marked absent for two weeks. Have you been here the
last two weeks?"
"Did you answer when roll call was taken?" the principal asked.
"No," the boy replied, while still staring at the top of his desk.
"'Caus she called me Jesus," he replied.
It was then I recalled the high school Spanish lesson I had completely
forgotten. In Spanish, the letter J takes on the sound of the letter H
and the E in Spanish sounds like long A in Spanish.
Lesson learned and applied. Jesus was never marked absent again during
his year in fourth grade.
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