LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Diana Garcia

Position: First Grade Dual Language Teacher
School: De Zavala Elementary School
School District: San Marcos Consolidated ISD
City, State: San Marcos, TX

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Diana Garcia was nominated by her friend, Melody Zoch.

"This is the whole reason I became a teacher. I was an at-risk kid growing up in the barrio. I grew up in the 70’s, so it wasn’t hip to have multicultural education. The white education was pushed on all of us Hispanic children…I want [my students] to know who I am, and I want them to trust me. I didn’t have an easy childhood, and I let them know that. But I have persevered because I chose books, writing, and an artistic kind of life. That gave me the strength to live. I am trying to be a role model." - Diana Garcia

"Diana gave me this statement when she described to me why she became a teacher," said Zoch. "We met over 15 years ago, when we taught at the same elementary school in central Texas. Diana stood out as a dedicated, caring teacher. She continues to be the most dedicated and caring teacher that I know. As a novice teacher at the time, I learned so much from her. Now that I am a teacher educator and associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I still learn from her and am amazed at her passion and devotion to her students."

Ms. Garcia has always chosen to teach in predominantly Latino schools. She sees herself and her calling as being a role model for children who look and sound like her. When she went off to college to pursue teaching as a young adult, Ms. Garcia took a Chicano Literature class. This was the first time she had ever heard stories with the message that it was "okay to be Hispanic, and it was okay to speak Spanish. It can even be ‘hip and cool’.”

This dawning realization, which she hadn't received until her 20’s, helped her understand that this is a message children need to receive earlier on. This is one of the strongest convictions Ms. Garcia has as a teacher, and it exemplifies why she teaches. She continually serves as a role model for her students. She has the highest expectations for them, relates to them and their families, and pushes for teaching that is culturally relevant for her students.

"When I first met Diana, I was a new first grade bilingual teacher, and Diana was a bilingual Reading Recovery teacher who worked with my students," said Zoch. "She was not my assigned mentor, but she took on this role of her own initiative. She coached me, offered me advice, and came to my classroom to model lessons for me. Five years later, we were fourth grade teammates, and both our working and personal relationships developed even further as we planned together. I learned so much from Diana during my time as a classroom teacher. In particular, I learned a lot about teaching writing, using quality children’s literature, motivating students by forming relationships, and incorporating social justice pedagogy. Through everything she's doing in the classroom and in the community to support other teachers, it's evident that she's innovative. She is always looking to improve upon her teaching. She takes risks by trying new things and discussing issues not typically explored in elementary classrooms (e.g., negative stereotypes, child labor, Gandhi), and she has a vision for her students to be engaged in ways that speak to who her students are and their potential."

Ms. Garcia has always been instrumental in starting and shaping innovative initiatives for both children and adults. For instance, she created a teacher inquiry group for local teachers on teaching social justice, which eventually led to presenting work at local and national conferences. The work in the teacher inquiry group was always rooted in the use of children’s literature and linked to teaching writing.

Ms. Garcia also created an afterschool Writer’s Club at the elementary school where she taught. During this time, kids explored creative writing, with an emphasis on writing poetry. This was a voluntary role she took on without extra pay. She was so passionate about teaching writing and giving kids opportunities to love writing that were not necessarily being supported during regular school hours. Through this program, Ms. Garcia publishes student writing twice a year in an anthology. When she moved to a nearby town and took another teaching position, she started her Writer’s Club once again and has been offering it ever since.

In addition to being active in her classroom and school, Ms. Garcia also supports teachers through offering professional development—both formally and informally. She has formally taught workshops for her school district and for The Heart of Texas Writing Project. Informally, she has mentored other teachers in teaching Writing Workshop. Most recently, she has initiated professional development on teaching Writing Workshop in Dual Language classrooms for teachers in her school.

Ms. Garcia is active at the state level by serving on the Tomás Rivera regional committee for the Tomás Rivera Children's Book Award. She also serves on the boards for the Calaboose Black History Museum, San Marcos Cinema Club, Unitarian Universalist Donate the Plate committee, San Marcos Baha'is Local Spiritual Assembly, and the El Centro Hispano Mexican-American Cultural Center. It goes without saying that she is very involved, not only with her school community, but with her regional community.

Ms. Garcia has recently become active at the national level. She has presented at conferences including the National Council of Teachers of English and the Whole Language Umbrella Conference. Her presentations have consisted of sharing teaching strategies and using children’s literature in her classroom. These presentations have exemplified the extra work she puts into her teaching where she goes beyond teaching standards and ensuring her instruction is innovative and relevant for her students. These presentations also exemplify the ways in which Ms. Garcia continually seeks to improve her own teaching and learn. Although she has taught for at least 20 years, she does not stay stagnant in her teaching. She recognizes the need to self-reflect and constantly be a lifelong learner.

Another way Ms. Garcia has been active as a teacher and leader is through applying for grants for her school. Over the years, she has received at least 20 grants which have gone towards efforts such as paying for field trips and purchasing books. Having children’s literature that is culturally relevant and globally-oriented is an important aspect of her teaching and sharing her practice with other teachers.

"Diana is an expert teacher, and her school is lucky to have her in their community," said Zoch. "I cannot think of any other teacher who is more deserving of this honor or who exemplifies more the characteristics of a LifeChanger."



Comments (11)


Melissa Legault Posted over a year ago

Ms. Garcia is life changing teacher for her students at DZ elementary. She fosters a love for writing and reading in each of her students. She goes above and beyond bridging the gaps between students and our community. She has a genuine passion for educated students and is always using research based instructional strategies and innovation in the classroom to spark engagement and develop an intrinsic love of learning in her students.

Vicente Colunga Posted over a year ago

Ms. Garcia is a passionate teacher who cares deeply about teaching students to love writing, be engaged global citizens, and embrace dual language. She has received multiple grants to take our students on culturally relevant fields trips and take in experiences they otherwise would not have had access to.

Elena Villanueva Posted over a year ago

It is my pleasure to work with Ms. Garcia at DeZavala Elementary in San Marcos CISD. Ms. Garcia is a leader our campus and our community. Ms. Garcia is passionate about providing our students with opportunities to engage in authentic learning and how that learning connects to the world we live in. Ms. Garcia instills positive ideas in our students on how they can impact our society as a whole. Ms. Garcia is determine to instill a passion for learning in all of our students. Ms. Garcia is constantly seeking opportunities to provide our students with real-life experiences and seeks outside organizations to support this vision.

Rosalba Merchant Posted over a year ago

Diana has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for her students. In addition to the numerous grants that she has been awarded, she has served on boards and been involved in causes to better the community in which she lives and works.

Bridget Jones Posted over a year ago

Ms. Garcia has taught me that you can be inclusive and still informative of differences, progressive yet sensitive, and push boundaries while nurturing a love of learning. I will forever be inspired by her work and her love of love. She not only wants to teach her students academics, but also how to be the best humans they can be. She is the epitome of what I consider a LifeChanger for both teachers and students.

Alex Dean Posted over a year ago

My daughter had Ms. Garcia during her first grade year in a Dual Language classroom. She came home talking to us about different cultures and social issues that I honestly never would have really expected my 1st grader to know about or grasp. But Ms. Garcia challenged them by exposing them to different cultures and issues real people are dealing with. My daughter also discovered her love for writing, and I contribute that to Diana exposing them to good literature, making writing fun, and by showing the kids what writing can do. She won a grant that year by writing and was able to take her students to on a field trip that wouldn't have happened otherwise. My daughter learns quickly and needs challenges, and Ms. Garcia saw that early on and never let her be stagnant or complacent. And she continues to check in on my daughter even though we have moved to another district, and that means so much to my daughter and me! Ms. Garcia is exceptional teacher, and truly creates such a great environment for learning in her classroom. I wish all of my kids could have her as a teacher! Ms. Garcia, Thank you for everything you do for our kids. For seeing Jaxon's strengths and weaknesses and helping her find a love for words. You set the standard so HIGH. Sincerely, Alex Dean

Kerry Alexander Posted over a year ago

When I consider excellence in education, Ms. Garcia is first on the list. I met her years ago at an Austin Teachers of Social Justice Group meeting when I was just beginning my career, and I remember thinking how she embodied everything I wished I could become for my students. Artwork hung from the walls and ceiling of her classroom and beautiful picturebooks lined the shelves. Every item had meaning, and every inch of the space was rich with intention. But what was (and is!) most striking about her practice, is the way she has remained tireless in her pursuit of social justice--it permeates every project; it resonates in her voice and reflection. Today, I run into Ms. Garcia at workshops and conferences, and she is still just as involved, passionate, and particular about the educative experiences all children and families deserve. She is clearly a life changer for children and adults alike, and undoubtedly deserves this honor.

Brittany Antonietti Posted over a year ago

I worked with Ms. Garcia in San Marcos. She was a dedicated team member and was always sharing her creative ideas and knowledge with our first grade team. Her passion for teaching children is contagious. She doesn’t just care about the students in her class, she cares about ALL students at the school. Every year she puts on a wonderful Black History Month assembly. This was always one of the favorite memories at the end of the year when speaking with my students. My students would get to present and perform at this assembly. She makes learning fun and makes every student feel important. She is an amazing mentor and a teacher I hope my daughter will have one day.

Nancy Valdez-Gainer Posted over a year ago

I’ve know Diana Garcia for many years. She is a source of inspiration for fellow teachers, students and families. Diana is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met. She dedicates an endless amount of time to social justice and giving back to her community and trying to do her part to make this works we live in a better place.

Katy Blake Posted over a year ago

Diana has always inspired me through her love of her students and teaching. She was instrumental in helping me develop into my own as a teacher when we were at the same school almost two decades ago. Diana has a love of writing and gentle way about her that invites and includes everyone to experience and grapple with language and their own expression. Our classes were pen pals, that she set up, and she would write little stories or poems in different shapes for us to enjoy. As a new teacher when I was desperately trying to figure out procedures and structure, she balanced that out with informally teaching me to use the moments already in front of me to learn alongside the wonderful children.

Dr. Ann David Posted over a year ago

I met Ms. Garcia when I was a graduate student and joined the local writing project site. In conversations during professional development workshops, Ms. Garcia always participated thoughtfully as an advocate for her students and school community. She focused on the funds of knowledge and assets her students and their families brought to her classroom and school, helping me to better understand the power of those asset-based perspectives. As a practicing teacher, Ms. Garcia also continues her own professional development and I had the opportunity to participate in a research project with her that culminated in a national research presentation and peer-reviewed published article (https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/wte/vol4/iss2/9/). I am now a teacher-educator in South Texas and a majority of my future teachers are Latinx. I bring what I learned about asset-based perspectives about teaching Latinx students from Ms. Garcia into my college classes and I am a better teacher and teacher-educator for it.