When Valentine Salinas started at Denison Independent School District during the second semester of his eighth grade year, he didn’t know any English. That was in 1998. On Friday, he completed his first week as a bilingual second grade teacher at Mayes Elementary School.
“I didn’t want to go to school,” he said as his students worked on their journals. “I didn’t want to get on the bus. I never thought about going to college or graduating with a bachelor’s.”
Salinas moved from Mexico with his family. “We came here for a better life, of course. I was 14,” he said. “At first it was hard because of the language barrier.”
The fact that Salinas started high school so quickly after coming to DISD amplified the challenges. However, Salinas’ teachers remember him as a hardworking student.
“He walked in every day with a shy smile on his face and was always prepared,” said Stacey Counce, Salinas’ high school biology teacher. “I have no idea how a student can learn a language so quickly … but he did it and did it well.”
DISD Director of Instruction Shonda Cannon, who taught Salinas Spanish 3 and 4 while he was at Denison High School, said he showed natural leadership skills. “From the first day that he was in my classroom, I was impressed with how articulate he was in both English and Spanish,” she said. “I told him many times when he was in my class that he would make a wonderful ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher because he had worked so hard to master English as a second language.”
Salinas said he didn’t have high expectations for himself, thinking perhaps he’d work in a restaurant after graduation. But he drew inspiration from his father, who was an elementary school teacher in Mexico.
“I struggled, and I know their (his students) frustration,” he said. “I know how hard it was for me to not be able to understand. I said to myself, ‘I want to be the person that is going to be able to help kids that struggled like me.’”
Mayes Principal Natalie Hicks said that experience will make him a better teacher for these students. “He knows where these kids are coming from. He’s lived it,” she said.
Salinas, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce, said he decided to teach elementary to help shape the future of the community and the country.
“We have to prepare our kids. … Our nation, our culture depends on these kids,” he said. “I want a better future for my community, for my city, for my country, and we need to start from the bottom, from the roots.”
Salinas admitted that he was nervous about his first week at his new post. (Students returned to school on Monday, Aug. 26.) “It’s not what I expected, in a good way,” he said. “I was scared … especially the first day. I didn’t know what to do, but, believe it or not, that first day was the best day of my life.”