Amid adversity, Wanda Smith pressed on to be the teacher she has always dreamt to be. She was a custodian and a bus monitor at the school where she now teaches.
According to Today, she paused her life to raise her family and nurse her sick mother while working as a bus monitor and custodian for the Brenham Independent School District in Texas. She worked as early as 6 am to almost midnight without paying much attention to herself.
“And sometimes I didn’t get to sleep because if mom needed to go to the doctor, I’d just get off and do what I had to do. And I never really thought about it. I just did it because it had to be done,” Smith recalled.
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Her family did stand by her when she decided to return to school to begin her journey to becoming the teacher she had always wanted to be. At age 37, with her husband’s support, Smith enrolled in college at Blinn Junior College to get her associate degree.
Then in 2004, just a year after completing her associate degree, she enrolled at Sam House Houston State. It was a whole new experience for her, sitting in the same class with students who could be her children and being taught by professors who were younger than she was.
That was not the only challenge she had to deal with. Smith suffered some personal losses during the academic year. Her mother and two sisters died. She was very close to all three of them and they were her support system. “My sister would be the one I would talk to at night when I was coming home. Then when I lost her, that took a lot out of me. It took a lot out. And yes, I did want to stop. But then my husband, he sat me down, and he let me know that I wasn’t the only one that made sacrifices. And so I was like, ‘Ok, I can do this. I can keep going,’” Smith said.
Nearly three decades after graduating high school, Smith finally graduated from Sam Houston State in 2010. She has since returned to the elementary school she once worked as a custodian to be a first-grade teacher.
Brenham School principal Kim Rocka honored Smith during the recent Teacher’s Appreciation Week. She referred to her as “the portrait of an American teacher,” and presented her with a bench outside of the school inscribed with Smith’s favorite phrase, “Be the best that you can be.”
Smith has more to celebrate now regardless of how long it took or what she lost to get here. The president of Sam Houston, Dr. Alisa White, has set up a $500 scholarship, the “Wanda Smith Make A Difference Scholarship”, in her name which will be given out yearly to a student who aspires to be a teacher.
The icing on the cake for Smith was when her mayor, Milton Tate Jr., declared May 4th as the “Be the Best You Can Be” Wanda Smith Day in Brenham.
“Oh my God, I got a day,” Smith said, becoming emotional as her husband, family, and friends cheered her on.
“Wanda, you’re not just an inspiration to your students, but also our community,” Mayor Tate said.
Coming from a place where education was not a priority for most people, Smith hopes her story will inspire her students to develop a love for education like she did, and pursue it to the fullest extent.