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."