As a child in El Salvador, Aracely Valdes took the charcoal her grandmother used to cook beans outside and repurposed it as chalk against the brick wall of the house to teach her brothers.
Education was not free there, and she wanted to help her brothers learn. When they were able to go to school, her grandmother emphasized the importance of it, Valdes said.
“We were very poor, and then sometimes we were just eating tortillas with cheese and that was it,” she said. “But she always made sure that school was paid off.”
Valdes shared her story with aspiring teachers at Fort Worth ISD’s Future Teachers Luncheon. Students from around the district came to network with college education programs and Tarrant To & Through and listen to Valdes.
The district invited the students to foster future educators and encourage them to return to Fort Worth ISD after they get their degrees.
Valdes attended Texas Tech University, where she was part of an accelerated program to get her degree and teaching certificate. The program is intensive, she said, so typically people in it aren’t able to work at the same time. She was part of a group of students that received a grant to do the program.
Those days were exhausting, Valdes said. She was a student teacher from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and she had her own children to take care of during online classes.
“I would be in the class taking notes, participating at the same time with my baby in the high chair feeding him,” she said. “And sometimes my teachers will hear him but they already knew that he was there.”
Then, she had her homework and lesson planning to start.
There were days she was running on two hours of sleep. But her hard work led her to her role today: teaching third grade dual language math and science at T.A. Sims Elementary School, where she did her student teaching and is in her first year as a full-time teacher.
“I just fell in love with the community and the parents and everyone around the school,” she said.
Teachers helped her become the person she is today, Valdes said, and she knew from a young age she wanted to have that kind of impact, too. She likes the community aspect of Fort Worth ISD and how it’s willing to help students with initiatives like providing coats for kids.
Despite the joys she finds in the classroom, Valdes knows it’s a hard time to be a teacher. Coming back from the pandemic and addressing those learning gaps is not easy, but she keeps fighting.
“Just give your best, always, because sometimes we might think as teachers that we’re not giving our best, but we are,” Valdes said. “There are some days when I go home and I tell my husband it was a very hard day for me. And then the next day I go and I see little notes from my students saying ‘You are the best teacher,’ ‘Maestra I love you’ and all these little drawings. That is telling me I’m doing what I’m supposed to do with them even though sometimes for us, it is hard.”
One aspiring teacher, Western Hills High School senior Andrea Torres, said despite the struggles of teaching today, she still wants to be part of the profession.
Torres is the area 10 president of the Texas Association of Future Educators, a program that helps students who want to become teachers with opportunities like competitions and serving as teacher aides.
She hopes to one day teach U.S. History to high school students, she said. There are challenges to teaching history, she knows, but she wants to give her future students the best she can.
“I just want to teach what I can teach to help my students become better people,” she said. “My main goal is making sure students have a good time at school. A lot of times people tell me, ‘No, don’t be a teacher because they don’t pay enough.’ But in reality it’s not about the money. It’s just about teaching and helping students become leaders. That’s the main goal.”
Sometimes, teachers are a student’s safe space, Valdes said. She spends a lot of time building her students up because the students learning English struggle during the parts of the day she teaches in English versus in Spanish.
“I tell them, this is learning time. You can make mistakes. That’s what we’re here for,” she said. “We learn together. I made mistakes. Not everyone is perfect. We are all humans, and they know that.”
She wants the students aspiring to be teachers to know: there’s always help. A dream will not become reality unless you work for it, she said.
“There are always scholarships that you can work for to help you pay to help you finish your dream,” she said. “Don’t let any language barrier stop you. Because even though you have an accent, that’s OK, accents are fine now, that’s what I tell my kids. Don’t let anything that tried to stop you get in your way to finish your dreams.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.