This article appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of The Classroom Teacher

Laurie Holmes always wanted to be a teacher. Martha Saucedo fell into the profession. In 2016, both TCTA members were recognized for their dedication to their students and honored with H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.

Laurie Holmes is seen in her classroom at Popham Elementary in this photo provided courtesy of H-E-B.

Lifetime of learning

Laurie Holmes won the H-E-B Lifetime Achievement Award for elementary school teachers. With nearly 30 years in the classroom, this 17-year veteran of Popham Elementary in Del Valle ISD loves “everything about teaching.”

“I love it more now than I did when I first started back in 1987,” Holmes said. “Popham Elementary is a Title I school, and my calling is to work with at-risk students. These kids need teachers who are committed and dedicated. I learn as much from them as they learn from me.”

Her love of learning began early. Holmes said she wanted to be a teacher when she was in third grade — the same grade she now teaches. “Growing up, I loved everything about school,” she said, recalling asking teachers for old workbooks at the end of the year so she could play school during the summer. “When I was in fifth grade, I was hired to tutor a first-grade neighbor who was having trouble reading. I was instantly hooked and knew teaching was meant for me.”

Holmes went on to become the first person in her family to attend college, and said her mother loved telling everyone her daughter was working in such a “noble profession.”

After teaching second grade for 12 years in Richmond, Virginia, Holmes moved to the Austin area and began teaching third grade in Del Valle ISD. She’s taught all subjects, but now primarily teaches math and science, serving as team leader for the past 15 years.

“I love mentoring new teachers and working with my fellow team members,” she said, calling herself lucky to have innovative, dedicated team members and supportive administrators at Popham Elementary. “I try to lead by example every day.”

That example helped lead to her nomination and win in the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards’ 15th year in May. Holmes tutors students before and after school and strives to work hard and be committed to helping her students succeed each day.

“I arrive early and stay late every day to ensure my students have the best chance at succeeding both academically and emotionally,” she said.

Holmes hasn’t missed a day of school in five years and also teaches summer school. Setting an example of a strong, student-centered work ethic, the veteran educator continues to follow the advice of a former principal, Dr. Joyce Bannerot, who told her to “always do what is best for (the) kids.” 

“She would always ask, ‘Is it what kids need?’ She also taught me to always lead by example. She was my principal for 14 years, and I learned so much from her about both teaching and leading.”

Martha Saucedo is seen in her classroom at Brady High School in this photo provided courtesy of H-E-B.

Signs of leadership

Martha Saucedo also knows something about leadership, winning H-E-B’s Leadership Award for secondary teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. The honor comes atop recognition last fall as Texas 2016 Secondary Teacher of the Year, a position she’s used to speak out about the importance of supporting educators so they can support students. 

Despite the accolades, Saucedo remains humble about her successes teaching family consumer science at Brady High School in Brady ISD. “There are 330,000 teachers in Texas.
To say that I’m the best every day would be untruthful,” she said. “I am lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity to be recognized.”

It’s an opportunity that could have passed her by. “It’s funny, I remember being in high school saying, ‘I’ll never become a teacher;’ and then boom! Life happens,” Saucedo said. “I was working in drug education, giving presentations in schools, classrooms and doing one-on-one presentations. Every day I had a smile on my face, and I realized that I loved working with kids. … My life was making me a teacher.”

A counselor in one of the schools she’d visited encouraged her to enter the profession, and Saucedo became special education certified, teaching inclusion math and English for two years at Junction High School before moving to Brady High School, where she’s taught a variety of classes for the past eight years.

“As predictable as it may seem, my favorite part is the kids. I love the opportunity to build relationships and character. (Children) are our future, and what better place to be than in the front seat as they drive into the future. Anyone who has ever been in the car with a teenager can tell you, there’s never a dull moment. I love this job!” 

Saucedo has coached volleyball, basketball, tennis, track and golf along with teaching FCS classes such as interior and fashion design, entertainment and sports marketing, interpersonal communications, entrepreneurship and career classes.

“I enjoy being spontaneous in my classroom. I want to challenge my students to see the connection between education and the real world,” she said. “I think this mentality has helped with my students’ success.”   

Challenges in the classroom

Holmes and Saucedo both agree that one of the key challenges facing Texas teachers is standardized testing. 

Holmes said STAAR testing pressures discourage teachers from staying at Title I schools like hers. “Students living in poverty face so many challenges on a daily basis. These
challenges are difficult enough for teachers to deal with, not to mention the addition of testing stress. … Many teachers are leaving the profession or transferring to more affluent
districts where student passing rates are higher and easier to obtain. This leads to big teacher turnover rates in low SES schools where good teachers are desperately needed.”

Saucedo said lawmakers have tried to fix the state’s educational system so many times that it has become unrecognizable. “Standing outside the Capitol in Austin, my picket sign would read, ‘If every school is different, if every teacher is different, and if every student is different, why are we testing everyone the same?’”

Testing woes are a byproduct of other problems in the educational system, Saucedo said, among them the lack of classroom experience of lawmakers who determine policy.
“In classrooms, teachers need the proper resources to train students for post-secondary education or the workforce,” she said, adding that focusing on testing hurts students who don’t go on to or graduate from college. “We have become consumed with satisfying one part of education and not the whole. Who suffers? Everyone. … We need to modify the system to build student and teacher morale, as well as academic progress.”

Rewards of teaching

Despite the challenges facing educators, both teachers put stock in a greater reward: the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives. Thanks to H-E-B, they’ll both get the chance to do just that.

Their awards come with cash prizes: $25,000 for Holmes, which she plans to spend on a nice vacation with her husband, saving some for home renovations and to help
refill the “treasure box” in her classroom; and $10,000 for Saucedo, which is going right back into education to help cover her son’s tuition at Texas State University and her graduate courses at Angelo State. Their schools get matching grants — $25,000 to go toward an Accelerated Reading program at Popham Elementary and $10,000 to help cover travel expenses for students at Brady High competing in academic contests at the state and national levels.

But even without grant money from awards, teachers can still focus on making a difference. 

“Robert Fuller, a teacher and former NASA engineer, said it best, ‘Teaching isn’t rocket science. It’s harder. To solve engineering problems, you use your brain. Solving classroom problems uses your whole being,’” Saucedo said. “Your whole being should be taking your passion for teaching and applying it every day to inspire your students. Teaching is a calling; every day different, every child unique, every challenge worth taking.”

Holmes agrees. “Being a teacher is not always easy, but is very rewarding. Never give up because you have a rough year. Always continue learning and never be afraid to try new things.”