A Texas elementary school teacher was recognized by her workplace for the kindness, hard work, and perseverance that she’s shown throughout the years, from her starting position as a custodian through her current position as a first-grade educator.
Wanda Smith of Brenham Elementary School in east-central Texas was honored during Teacher Appreciation Week, which took place May 3 to May 7, and uplifted as an inspiration due to her path to the classroom and the impact she continues to make in her students’ lives each day.
Before joining the Brenham Elementary faculty, Smith began her career as a staff member with the Brenham Independent School District, working from 6 a.m. as a bus monitor, then 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. as a custodian. Although completing college was always in the back of her mind, she was focused on helping support her family.
“My plans were to go straight into college, but then my mother got sick and so those dreams had to be deferred and I just got a job and started providing for the family,” she said.
At the age of 37, Smith was encouraged by her husband, Darron Smith, to pursue her associate’s degree at Blinn College, a junior college in Brenham, in 2004. Instead of stopping there, she enrolled at Sam Houston State in 2005 to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Smith’s educational journey was nearly sidetracked after the deaths of her mother and two sisters, which she admitted made her strongly consider quitting. “I was so happy to tell them that I was going back to school. They were so proud of me,” she said through tears. “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.”
With her husband stepping in to encourage her once again, she decided to see her goal through to the end. “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.'”
In 2010, Smith graduated from Sam Houston State University with her bachelor’s degree and took her talents back to the classroom.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith went above and beyond to ensure her students still had access to the best education possible by hand-delivering work packets to their homes. This way her students with single parents working long hours who couldn’t commit to picking the work up from school wouldn’t have to worry about falling behind.
Smith was completely taken aback when her colleagues were joined by “Today” to spotlight her achievements and continuous impact. “When I stand in front of my classroom, that in itself, MY classroom, I am living my dream,” she said during her interview.
“Wanda Smith is the portrait of an American teacher,” Brenham Elementary School Principal Kim Rocka said of the faculty member. “She’s such an inspiration to us all.”
The beloved teacher was presented with a number of surprises that left her emotional on her special day. Dr. Alisa White, the president of her Sam Houston State alma mater, created The Wanda Smith Make a Difference Scholarship, a $500 scholarship in her honor that will be gifted to a first-generation Sam Houston State student looking to pursue a teaching career.
The mayor of Brenham, Milton Tate Jr., also declared Tuesday, May 4 “Be the Best You Can Be” Wanda Smith Day, after one of Smith’s favorite phrases. The saying, along with Smith’s name, was also engraved on a bench that will be installed at the elementary school.