Pictured: Alice High School Algebra II and physics teacher Carlos De La Garza was named the Region 2 Secondary Teacher of the Year. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

AHS teacher named region's Secondary Teacher of the Year

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Failure is not an option - that's the theme throughout Carlos De La Garza's Algebra II and Physics classes at Alice High School, and a motto that has served him well in his rise through his teaching profession the last 22 years.

De La Garza was honored last week by the Region 2 Service Center for his achievements in the classroom, as the region's Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Becoming a teacher meant internalizing the good things he learned from other Alice teachers he had worked with, and making it his own, De La Garza said.

Teachers like Mr. Tellez, his ninth-grade science teacher, Mrs. Palacios his Gifted and Talented teacher, Mr. Miller, Mrs. Quick, Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Anderson, his third-grade teacher.

She was the one who told De La Garza to hold on to his dreams.

He said his latest accomplishment wouldn't have occurred without his first and greatest supporter, his mother.

"She's the one who encouraged me to continue. She told me, you're going to be somebody special someday. Now she tells me, because I'm special, I have big responsibilities," De La Garza said.

Whether it's his work with Sunday school classes, coaching his daughter's softball team, which won an ASA National Championship, or in the classroom, De La Garza inspires a "never-give-up" attitude in his students.

"I am a great teacher because I have great students, believe it or not," De La Garza wrote on his chalkboard after receiving the region's Secondary Teacher of the Year honor. De La Garza strives every day to motivate his students, to instill in them a sense of worth, a belief that anything is possible, as long as they believe in themselves.

"They don't know they're great, so it's my job as a teacher to make them feel comfortable enough to venture out and test themselves. And once they find out they can do it, they'll do almost anything they want to do. They're capable of moving mountains," De La Garza said.

The Region 2 Service Center covers 11 counties with more than 250 campuses. De La Garza was one of 20 teachers in the state to be honored as a Regional Secondary Teacher of the Year. The next level of competition will include a call back for interviews for three of those 20 teachers, from which one will be honored as the State's Secondary Teacher of the Year. Along with an award, De La Garza received a $500 cash prize, and will attend a special luncheon in November in Austin.

De La Garza admits though it is harder now to reach the kids than in years past. But it isn't because the students are any less capable, he said, it's that some of the kids don't have the necessary support at home.

"It used to be the parents would back me up right away. 'Hey, you have to do what Mr. De La Garza tells you,' but now the kids go home, and the parents are all working late. Sometimes they're not aware of what's going on with their child. The parents are the most important instruments teachers have. If the parents are not there, it makes it a lot more difficult to get the child to learn. It can be done, but the child really has to want it. If the parents get involved, can you imagine what we can do?" De La Garza said.

As teachers, De La Garza said they're taught to teach a certain way, but teachers need to be creative.

"I remember when I first started teaching, I wanted to be like this teacher and that teacher, and my first three years were miserable. I could not get the kids to learn. It's not that their methods were wrong, it's that their methods were right for them. What I had to figure out was what was my way of teaching these kids," De La Garza said.

"And my way was to show the kids love."

When De La Garza weaves through his class as the students work, one student might look up at him and say, "hey dad." All the children laugh, but De La Garza said it's an honor when kids say that in class, because it means they feel safe, and when they're safe, they're going to do their best.

Once, a student stood up during a lesson in class, which takes a lot of courage, De La Garza said.

"I hated your class in the beginning, but Mr. De La Garza, I love you," the student said to him.

De La Garza told him, "I love you, too," and everyone laughed.

But that is an example of the connections De La Garza is able to make with his students. He still has junior and senior students pass by in the halls, and when they see him standing there, they say "De La Garza, I love you." De La Garza said not all those students loved math, but it was the experience of being in the class that they still hold on to.

"In the real world, when you make a mistake, people jump on you, and you're torn up. But in the classroom you don't have to be torn up, that's when you're learning. That's what I do. Sometimes it's more difficult than others. It's easy to teach an honors class, their objective is to get a good grade, but a kid that's had failure all his life, I have to find methods of motivating that student," De La Garza said.

And he is the first to admit that he doesn't always succeed.

By the end of the day, De La Garza said he is often physically drained. He strives to make sure a positive environment exists within his classroom. Although he was feeling sick this week, De La Garza said he continued with that same level of intensity because his students are looking for acceptance and leadership all the time, and in the classroom, he is the leader.

"I tell them, hey you're coming into my room. This is my domain, this is my house for 30 years until I retire, this is your house for 50 minutes," De La Garza said. "But it won't be your house until you learn to respect the rules…I break (the lesson) up for them and say, let's do this for 15 minutes, now let's do this for 15 minutes, and this for 15 minutes. And before you know it they look up and say, 'Gosh, the bell is going to ring already.' I like to hear that, when they say this is their favorite class because it goes by so fast. If it feels like it's going fast, it's because you have them involved."