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 trouble.

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 English.

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 English.

However, no one told me how to correctly pronounce the name of one individual student until he had been marked absent for two weeks.

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.

"Why not?"

"'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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