School has always been a source of comfort for Pricila Cano Padron — so much so, in fact, that she describes it as a “second home.”
She’s not kidding. Growing up, the Texas native would voluntarily sign up for summer school and extra credit classes, just to spend more time in that environment.
“I always did something to be in a school because I just felt like myself there,” she explains.
Cano Padron grew up near Dallas, in a school community that she says encouraged her, nourished her and provided stability and consistency when, during her preteen years, her home life became difficult.
“I always found comfort walking in at 7:50 a.m., having my pencil bag, having my journals, learning something new every day,” she shares.
From her earliest teachers to those she had in high school, Cano Padron developed close relationships with the educators in her life — many of whom she has now come to see as role models — and began to think about how she could one day offer to other children what was given to her.
A few weeks ago, in May, Cano Padron graduated from Dallas College with her bachelor’s degree. It’s the first time in her life that she will no longer be a student, which Cano Padron says is “an emotional thing” for her.
But she won’t be out of the classroom for long. Cano Padron, a first-generation Mexican American, has accepted a fourth grade teaching position in Richardson Independent School District, the same district she attended.
In our Future Teacher series, we feature students in teacher preparation programs on the cusp of having their own classrooms to find out what set them on this career path and why they stayed on it, undeterred by the rhetoric around the profession, full of hope, energy and momentum for what lies ahead. This month, we are featuring Cano Padron.
The following interview had been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
EdSurge: What is your earliest memory of a teacher?
Pricila Cano Padron: My earliest memory of a teacher would have to be in second grade. We were reading a book on Pippi Longstocking. What amused me and captivated me was the way my teacher was so into the character. She dressed up as Pippi, she did the hair. She stayed late the day before to decorate the room with the setting of the book. She was so into the character, and that made me truly enjoy reading. The way she read the book, the way she interacted with us and the way we interacted with her — I think that’s what really made me think, ‘Wow, I wanna do this one day.’ I wanna dress up and read to kids and see them smile and interact and actually enjoy reading. That’s still my favorite memory to this day.
When did you realize that you might want to become a teacher yourself? Was there a specific moment or a story?
It really didn’t hit me until probably middle school. I’ve always enjoyed helping my friends with their homework, helping them understand. But in middle school, it was around 2014, when there were a lot of newcomer students who didn’t understand English. And I am bilingual, so I was able to translate a lot of information for them and help them work through math problems, reading and be a sort of tutor for them. I think that was my wake up call.
Did you ever reconsider a career in teaching?
I actually did. Before I applied for college, I was very into the idea of trying nursing out. I was stuck on the idea for probably the second half of my senior year of high school.
I always knew I wanted to interact with children and be able to see them grow up and just be there, teaching them, talking to them and seeing them become mini adults. And I realized that in nursing, I’d be moving from room to room, helping people but not having the same kind of interaction with children.
So I did have that one period of wanting to be a nurse for three to four months, but I realized that that’s not really what I wanted to do. I knew, in my heart, that I wanted to be a teacher.
It sounds like you’ve always wanted to go into a field where you would be in service to others. Do you think that comes from a certain part of your personality or —?
Yes, absolutely. I enjoy caring for other people, and I enjoy giving. So being a student teacher and going into the education field, I feel like it’s the perfect fit.
I’m an only child, and ever since I was probably 4 or 5, I remember just wanting to please my parents, wanting to help around the house, wanting to do so much for them.
My dad would get home from work in the evening, and I remember having his slippers by his chair, having a cold water bottle by his chair, and caring for him and caring for my mom, when she got sick.
In 2011 or 2012, my mom was diagnosed with leukemia. It was very hard.
It’s just my mom, dad and me, and my dad had to keep working to pay the bills. My mom couldn’t keep the job she had at the time. My dad would get home at 6:30 p.m. I loved being at school. I love education so much, [but during that period], when I was at school, all I could think about was, ‘Did my mom eat? Is my mom OK?’ At the time I had no cell phone or no access to communication with her throughout the day, so as soon as 2:50 p.m. came, I was already packed up and ready to go out the door to go care for her. Sometimes she didn’t need help, but it was something I wanted to be there for.
Today, she’s doing much better. She’s doing really great right now. It’s been 10 years.
Why do you want to be a teacher?
Growing up, each teacher I had made an impact in my life, from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. My fifth grade teacher, whoI am still close with to this day, moved up with our class to sixth grade. So she was there the first year my mom started to get sick … she was there to care for me for fifth and sixth grade. When things got more intense, she didn’t pity me or my family. Never once did she treat me differently just because of what was going on at home. She did the total opposite. She made sure she pushed me. She always gave me amazing opportunities. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be doing as many things as I am today. So I always said I want to be a teacher just like her, because she has pushed me to become the person I am today.
I [just finished] student teaching, and I was tutoring before that. My students would often say things like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to college because my mom didn’t go to college.’ [I want to be a part of] breaking that stigma of not going to college because our parents didn’t go to college. I want them to know that there’s someone in their life that sees them and will support them and give them great opportunities. I want them to know that they have a support system not just at home, but in school. They have someone who is there for them. That’s what makes me want to become a teacher every day.
What gives you hope about your future career?
That’s a hard question. Regardless of how the day ends or how a lesson went, I think what gives me hope is seeing the kids smiling at me or giving me the biggest hug or seeing them excel in whatever they’re working on. Because education — being a teacher — is not easy. But the children just give you that little sense of hope. That big sense of hope.
So for me, it would have to be the children, just knowing that they could one day become something bigger than what we are. Maybe I’m teaching the future president of the United States. Who knows?
What gives you pause or worries you about becoming a teacher?
I think what worries me, a lot, would have to be safety, which is very controversial nowadays. The safety of children.
And then, I don’t want to say the pay, but just the lack of support many teachers have within their campus. I have an amazing team. They have supported me throughout my student teaching since August. But I’ve heard stories from my close friends who are doing their student teaching in other districts, and the lack of support scares me because you might have an amazing campus, an amazing admin, and then you transfer to another school and it just is not the same. I think that, plus safety and pay, is what worries a lot of teachers, including myself.
Are you talking about physical safety, being able to protect your students?
Yes, like what happened [in Nashville] and what happened about a year ago in South Texas — that’s one of my biggest worries about becoming an educator. You are not just a teacher to these 20 kids. You are like a second parent to them. And you never know — regardless of the area, the district you’re in, you never know [what can happen]. Knowing that you can only do so much for them in those moments [is difficult]. So that’s a big worry of mine: not being able to do as much as one intends or hopes to, to protect the children.
That’s really heavy. And for you, as an early childhood teacher, I imagine you feel like you have to be their protector, that if something happens, they’re gonna look to you to watch out for them.
Yeah. Right now, I’m in a third grade classroom, and … I feel like every educator has had that thought: if it happens to you, what would you do, where would you go? And you have to think about it more than once, especially these days, especially after what happened [in Uvalde]. It hits you sometimes.
Can you say more about the pay? How do you think about that element of the career?
I knew that choosing this career, going into it, the pay wasn’t as great as a doctor or as many other career choices. I do see why a lot of teachers end up leaving after their first year, their second year or their third year. I see why they are not OK with the pay when they go through so much on their campuses, with their students, and with so little support. It’s a little heartbreaking, and it’s disappointing.
I think I knew that choosing this career — I say this now — I would have to look past the pay grade. Like I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy giving, I enjoy caring for others. So I’ve tried not to think about the pay. As long as I’m giving the children an education, as long as they feel safe and confident, I think I’m doing my job. And that overshadows the pay grade.
My focus is mainly on the children. The day I feel like I didn’t do my job or that I didn’t try my hardest, I think that’s what would motivate me to leave, not the pay grade for this career.
What have you learned from your student teaching experience?
Oh, OH. I learned that it’s so different going from college classes to teaching in real-life classrooms. It’s like culture shock, everywhere you go, because your textbook might tell you one thing, but then you see a whole different thing happening in real life. It’s a change. It’s a surprise. You’re kind of on your own to figure it out. In college, you learn how to read material, how to plan lessons, but you really don’t learn how to manage a classroom, how to find your “teacher voice,” how to accommodate a lesson that didn’t work the first block and fix it so it can work the second block. It’s a lot of change. I was very shocked, seeing how it was so different from a textbook to real life.
Is it still everything that you expected it would be, in terms of like the joy and the rewards of working with kids?
Oh, absolutely. You know, you have your days where it’s a little stressful, and you have your days where it can be a roller coaster, but absolutely. I’m still as joyful as I was when I decided on my major. Nothing in life is perfect, especially not in the career choice one makes — everyone has those ups and downs — but I have not lost the joy.