Master Teachers: A series

The Beat has interviewed Master Teachers across the district to share their stories and introspections about their careers, including tips for teaching. Meet Master Teacher Flor Mendez Gonzalez.

Flor Mendez Gonzalez, a master teacher at Annie Webb Blanton Elementary School, has been a teacher for 20 years, 11 of them at Dallas ISD. Before coming to the district, she was in Monterrey, Mexico, teaching at a private school when one of her colleagues told her about the Dallas ISD Visa Program, which offers the options of the H-1B visa and the J-1 Exchange Visitor Teacher Program.

She sent an email inquiring about the teaching opportunity, and the next day, she received a link to the application. Thus began the first step in her journey to become a teacher at Dallas ISD.

What drew you to education? 

I was drawn to education because it has always been part of my family’s legacy. My mother was a teacher, and I witnessed firsthand the positive impact she had  on her students’ lives. Her passion for teaching and the stories she shared about her classroom experiences inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Additionally I’ve always had a deep love for learning and sharing knowledge.

How are you creating opportunities for students?

I recognize that creating opportunities for students as a teacher at the elementary level goes beyond the classroom. It involves nurturing their personal and academic growth to prepare them for a successful future, so I’m always looking for ways to innovate and adapt my teaching methods to best serve their needs. I think one of the best ways I create opportunities for my students is through differentiated instruction. This ensures that all students have opportunities to succeed, regardless of their individual strengths and weaknesses. I also like to promote lifelong learning skills for my students by modeling my own love for learning, showing enthusiasm for reading new books and sharing my own learning experiences while I encourage my students to pursue knowledge beyond the classroom. 

What is your best teaching tip? 

Teachers have a lot of responsibilities. After all these years in the profession, my advice would be to prioritize building strong relationships with your students. Establishing a positive and supportive classroom environment can significantly enhance their learning experience. Take time to learn about your students’ interests, backgrounds and learning styles. Your students would know that you really care about them and motivate them to do their best.

What would your students be surprised to find out about you?

I share a lot of personal experiences with my students, but I think they would be surprised to know that I did my student teacher internship at the University Language Center, and I got to be the English teacher of adults that were more than 20 years older than me. Some of them were professors at the University. It was overwhelming at first but I learned a lot, and I loved it!

What inspires you the most about being an educator? 

The profound impact I can have on my students’ lives is what inspires me the most. Witnessing the transformation from the moment they enter my classroom to their graduation is incredibly rewarding. Seeing a student overcome challenges, grasp complex concepts, or find their voice is a constant reminder of the power of education. Being at the same school for over seven years gives me the opportunity to see some former students at family events. When they approach me to tell me that they’re still using in middle school a strategy I taught them in third grade or that they still remember when we read Matilda as a reading project, it makes me feel that I’m at the right place.

Celebrating Native American heritage with books

November is Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, and libraries across the district at elementary and middle schools will be getting books with Native American themes.

Working with Library Media services, the Social Studies Department is deploying more than 300 books and some Native American memorabilia to libraries, so students have access to books that celebrate the culture and contributions of Native Americans, not just during November but throughout the year, said Shalon Bond, director of Social Studies.

“We want to heighten the knowledge of Native American culture through identity and voice in our libraries, and we are doing this throughout the year,” she said. “Our libraries are coming back [as part of Project R.E.A.D.], and we can amplify these voices and cultures by reading about them.”

The books that will be shared in libraries—mostly in elementary schools—include biographies of baseball and track pioneers like Jim Thorpe, Native American traditional stories, fiction, and stories based on traditions from the different nations. 

“These books will also give our Native American students multiple opportunities to see themselves reflected in books in our libraries,” Bond said.

In addition to copies of books being available soon in school libraries, Library Media Services is also celebrating the month by curating a book list on the Sora library app,, so students and team members can dive into the rich stories and knowledge of Native American cultures.

District support helps extracurricular coaches stay the course

It takes time and effort to provide high-quality extracurricular programs to students, and Dallas ISD academic coaches understand that. They are committed to guide students through a variety of competitions and enrichment opportunities that have a positive impact on academic outcomes, attendance, and social-emotional growth.

More than 1,800 coaches have signed up to sponsor a Student Activities extracurricular program at their school for the 2023-2024 school year. The recruitment of qualified teachers is crucial to the department’s ability to offer a variety of activities for students to choose from, and these teachers have stepped up to the challenge.

To encourage teachers to become sponsors, the department works to remove all barriers to running a strong extracurricular program, said Sharla Hudspeth, executive director of Extracurricular and Extended Learning.

“We place a great focus on our coaches, and we want Dallas ISD students to have access to superior extracurricular programs without any barriers like cost, availability, or transportation,” she said. “Removing the barriers to involvement and supporting coaches is key to high-quality extracurricular programs.”

Providing coaches with stipends and training, means creating opportunities for students that can help them increase academic performance, make lasting friendships, and grow socially and emotionally.

Teachers receive study materials, supplies, and direct support from the Student Activities team to help them build and prepare their students for competitions, workshops, and tournaments.

Not all coaches come to the table with experience, but they do come with a passion to engage students in after-school programs, said Michelle Read, Student Activities coordinator.

“All coaches must receive support to help them feel confident in their role,” she said. “This is especially true of new coaches because we want to make sure they have a positive experience.”

The new Law Magnet debate coach, Vanessa Lee, felt ready to lead her team following a series of workshops sponsored by the department earlier this fall.

“I have felt nothing but supported as a new coach,” Lee said. “I feel like I have a newfound level of comfortability teaching the context, and the collaboration with other coaches has been invaluable.”

Veteran debate coach Matt Summers of Thomas Jefferson High School has always found support through the department and its partner for the district’s debate program, the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance (DUDA).

“I have always found that DUDA and Student Activities bend over backwards to provide coaches support and resources, even where we did not anticipate a need,” he said.

The Student Activities Department often partners with outside sources to lead professional development for coaches. DUDA is one such partner. Cheer Express is another partner that provides training and development for Dallas ISD cheer coaches.

At the recent elementary cheer coach workshop, Cheer Express led coaches through an interactive evening of cheers and chants in the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy gymnasium.

During a break, Crystan Barnes, Sam Houston Elementary School cheer coach, discussed how she previously had to get financial support for the cheer program from parents, families, faculty, and fundraisers.  Expenses were such an issue that they were only able to do a few performances at their campus and were unable to travel to outside events.

“Now, with expenses not being an issue, every child gets a uniform, every child can attend the cheer camps and compete in competitions throughout the year,” she said. “The students are so excited about being part of this team. It has had a significant impact on their behavior, academics, work ethic, and emotional health.”



Finding joy in being a substitute teacher

Dallas ISD substitute teacher Carolyn Galvan loves being a substitute teacher, and students love her being there. Students come up to her and give her a fist bump or a hug, and she knows them by their first name. Team members say she lights up a room when she enters. 

Galvan says many of her students treat her like family, as she offers compassion and understanding in the classroom, no matter what kind of day the student is having. She feels appreciated at Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy, which is how the National Education Association hopes that all substitute teachers feel. 

As part of American Education Week, the NEA established National Subsitute Teachers Day on Friday, Nov. 17, to highlight the contributions of substitute teachers and to set aside time for appreciation of the vital role they play in the maintenance and continuity of daily education. 

Amber Bonasso, a teacher at Longfellow Academy, where Galvan is often a substitute teacher, says Galvan is not only celebrated by the students when they hear she is going to be subbing in for their class, but is such a source of encouragement to the teachers.  

“She is wonderful and can always be counted on,” Bonasso said. “She communicates with the teacher really well and makes the students feel cared for. We love Ms. Galvan at Longfellow!” 

Galvan has a long history teaching for the district. She began her journey with the district in 1990 as an eighth-grade English and Reading Language Arts teacher at Dallas Environmental Science Academy. She then became an instructional coach for the reading department, traveling to several campuses—from Oak Cliff to North Dallas, she said. After changes in the department, she went back to teaching at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School as an English Language Arts teacher and as a campus instructional coach. 

Due to personal illness, Galvan said she had to slow down and temporarily leave teaching until a friend suggested she become a substitute teacher. After being out for a few months, she ventured back into the classroom. Galvan says it was her love of teaching that brought her back into the classroom in this role. 

“I love being with students, and I had missed them,” Galvan said. “I’m always learning from them, and I think they keep me young.”

With her years of experience, Galvan has tips to share with fellow substitute teachers as well as others who are considering going into this field. According to Galvan, being prepared for the unexpected is key. She said she has been very fortunate to substitute in classes where teachers leave very detailed notes, but that last minute emergencies can happen where the teacher might not always have the ability to leave the lesson plans. Something unexpected could also mean a fire drill–so knowing the school’s safety plan is a good idea, she said.. 

If it’s your first day substituting at a new school, she recommends coming in early to read the classroom teacher’s notes. The teachers will also let the substitute know if there are students who have special needs. Galvan also recommends taking a look at the bell schedule and seeing what the day looks like, as well as introducing yourself to the teachers that are nearby, who are almost always willing to help if need be.

Her most memorable moments as a substitute teacher are the little things, Galvan said. For example, a few weeks ago, a student knitted a scarf for her in purple. The student had remembered Galvan mentioning that purple was her favorite color.  Another student gave her a card that read “to the best sub.” These are the moments that she treasures the most. 

Some of her former students have become Dallas ISD teachers, and Galvan says she is always happy when they come up to her and remember her and share with her what they cherished about the times when she was their teacher. 

“That’s what keeps me going—knowing that I had a role in where they are. I love being part of their lives,” Galvan said. 

More than anything, Galvan wishes for her students to never give up in the classroom or in life. 

“I want them to be successful, to be happy, to be passionate and to be able to overcome any obstacles and to keep on trying,” she said. “Even through the stumbling blocks and obstacles, I want to motivate them to keep on going.”

A lifetime dedicated to uplifting students

A familiar and friendly face for students and community members at Francisco “Pancho” Medrano Junior High School is Carlos Rodriguez, an education support professional, who has worked for the district for over three decades. In fact his journey as a Dallas ISD team member began when he was a teenager. 

In recognition of all they do to support learning, team members like Rodriguez, can be celebrated on Nov. 15—Education Support Professionals Day. The day was first celebrated in 1987 by the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly to honor the contributions of all school support staff. To learn more, click here

Rodriguez began his journey as an education support professional in the district in 1992, a year after graduating from North Dallas High School, when he was offered a job at Ignacio Zaragoza Elementary School. 

Rodriguez, who is currently working in the English as a Second Language Department at Medrano, has shared his talents in the different roles he’s played in the district—from building a dance program as a ballet folklorico instructor to strengthening newcomer students’ language skills. Through the diverse range of work that Rodriguez has done, he has appreciated every moment and experience and says he is very passionate about what he does. 

“I like for every student to take something in return for the time and effort they put into the class,” Rodriguez said. “I want students to have something  to look forward to every day, and that they feel good about what they accomplished, whether it’s a small step or a big victory.” 

Rodriguez was at Zaragoza for a few years before he became the ballet folklorico instructor at North Dallas, a position he held for approximately eight years. 

After his time at North Dallas, Rodriguez was offered a job at W.T. White High School, where he had the opportunity to not only teach dance but also offer academic support to students, primarily in science. After spending approximately five years at White, Rodriguez moved to Medrano, located in the same neighborhood in Northwest Dallas where he grew up.

At Medrano, where Rodriguez has been since 2008, he has provided educational support to students who receive special services and currently offers support to students who speak languages other than English. Rodriguez, who is originally from Monterrey, Mexico, was once an ESL student and says he understands the  frustrations and challenges that students face. 

He says one of the greatest satisfactions of his job is seeing the growth of his students from the beginning of the school year to the end, as he sees his students grow into their confidence and language skills and are able to better advocate for themselves. 

In the trajectory of his career, Rodriguez has seen his students not only become fluent and confident speakers, but become business owners, start their own dance companies– several of which exist in the Dallas area—and start their own careers and families. Rodriguez says he’s honored to have been a part of their journey. 

“Many of my students have evolved and many of them are entrepreneurs, creating their own paths as community leaders,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t realize how much of an impact you can make in our youths’ lives, until they come back and thank you for being there for them. There is no greater reward than that.”

Call for teachers to become librarians

In order to help fill librarian positions, Dallas ISD is growing their own by encouraging teachers who are interested in pursuing this field to attend upcoming information sessions. These efforts, led by the Library and Media Services Department, are part of the district’s teacher-to-librarian cohort for the fall of 2023. 

In these sessions, several universities—including Sam Houston State University, Texas Woman’s University, and University of North Texas—that have school librarian programs will present information about the different programs offered. 

The minimum requirements to be a part of the teacher-to-librarian cohort include two years of classroom teaching experience and a valid K-12 teaching certificate. 

The information sessions will take place 5-6 p.m. on the following dates: 

  • Nov. 14 
  • Nov. 15
  • Nov. 29

The meetings will take place virtually and can be accessed by clicking on the link in the flyer. For more information, contact Tabatha Sustaita-Robb at



AC interns can get money back

Alternative Certification interns could be eligible for reimbursement of their program fees if currently enrolled in an Educator Preparation Program.                                                

The Alternative Certification reimbursement incentive is designed to support teachers during the 2023-2024 school year, and those who are eligible could be reimbursed up to $4,000 contingent on fund availability and approval by Human Capital Management. This reimbursement does not apply to the district’s Alternative Certification program interns, whose tuition and fees have been waived. The deadline to submit for reimbursement is May 31, 2024.

To be eligible for the reimbursement:

  • You must be a teacher during the 2023-2024 school year.
  • Your intern or probationary certificate must be posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website no earlier than January 2023.
  • You must submit an official statement from your Alternative Certification program reflecting fees incurred and paid during the 2023-2024 school year. 

Please click here for instructions on how to submit your official statement and click here to sign up for an Alternative Certification Reimbursement information session.

For additional questions or concerns contact (972) 925-4260 or 


Could you be Dallas’ next poet laureate?

The search for Dallas’ new poet laureate is underway, and one of Dallas ISD’s talented wordsmiths could be chosen. You just need to apply. 

Every two years, Dallas chooses a poet laureate to help encourage greater literacy awareness, according to the Dallas Public Library’s website. The current poet laureate, Joaquin Zihuatanejo, is a product of Dallas ISD, having graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. This next poet laureate will hold the post starting in April 2024 through March 2026.

The Dallas Public Library, the City of Dallas’ Office of Arts and Culture, and Deep Vellum Bookstore & Publishing Company began the program in 2022, which means this is only the second time the search for a poet laureate for the city takes place. 

The Dallas Public Library’s website describes the poet laureate role as one of a liaison, advocate, and leader who inspires the diverse residents of Dallas to read, write, perform and appreciate the written and spoken word. Part of the poet laureate’s duties includes serving as an ambassador by presenting original poems at community events and ceremonies throughout the city of Dallas. The chosen poet will also hold artist-in-residence office hours at the Erik Jonsson Central Library located in downtown Dallas.

Some of the perks of being the poet laureate is receiving an honorarium of $20,000 during the two-year term, as well as a $2,000 advance with Deep Vellum to publish a full-length collection of original poetry. If you’d like to learn more and apply, visit

Tips and resources for America Recycles Day

As Dallas celebrates America Recycles Day, Nov. 15, the district continues to increase its recycling efforts in schools and other facilities. In the last five years alone, recycling in the district has increased from 12 percent to over 17 percent, according to Bryant Shaw, manager of the Energy and Sustainability Department. Since 2017, the district has also had a 52% decrease in trash going to the landfill. 

In 2015, Dallas ISD replaced the polystyrene trays with compostable plates in the cafeterias, and Shaw said the district hopes to add compostable trash bags and utensils by 2027. 

Dallas ISD is making progress to match national recycling numbers, which, according ot the Environmental Protection Agency, has increased 32 percent from 7 percent in 1960.

Many schools throughout the district get their students engaged by participating in learning activities and clubs that promote recycling. 

“Some schools have a second generation of families participating—the parents participated in recycling when they were in school and taught their children about recycling. Now their kids are practicing this in the schools,” Shaw said. 

If you’re interested in starting a recycling program at your school, you can find that information at the district’s Energy and Sustainability Department page here. It also includes online training, frequently asked questions, a recycling checklist, among other resources. 

The EPA also offers free online tools for schools and parents such as packing a waste free lunch to science fair activities centered around recycling, just to name a few. You can access these resources here

Whether at schools or at home, we can all do our part to protect the environment and recycle. If you need a recycling roll cart or need one replaced, you can request one via the City of Dallas’ Department of Sanitation Services, by accessing their page here

According to the EPA, some of the things we can do at home include: learning to compost at home; having a yard sale to find homes for clothes, toys, appliances, and books that you no longer need; using old newspapers to wrap fragile materials when moving; and buying reusable mops, rags and sponges when cleaning. 

To learn more about recycling, the EPA has extensive tools online at

Supporting mental health one student at a time

In the more than 20 years Yatta Johnson—a licensed mental health clinician—has worked as a school psychologist, she has played many roles but perhaps none more crucial as the one she has now at Emmett J. Conrad High School. Every day, she connects with students, guides them through difficult times and helps them better understand themselves and others.

Johnson is one of several school psychologists in Dallas ISD, and thousands throughout the country, whose work is celebrated and highlighted through Nov. 10 during National School Psychology Week.

“I’m a non-traditional school psychologist because my degree is in mental health counseling psychology and clinical psychology,” said Johnson, who is originally from Dallas and returned 23 years ago after obtaining her degrees to work in a school setting.

She is proud to be part of Dallas ISD’s Mental Health Services because the district takes an innovative approach to student mental health and is at the forefront of providing services, she said. More traditional school psychologist roles entail evaluating students for special education services or learning disabilities, serving in committees, and sitting in on ARD meetings.

“You might do a little counseling, but you don’t really get to interact with the general student population,” she said. “At Conrad, I get to work with students on anxiety, depression, help offer support, conduct suicide risk assessment, screen for potential risk of violence, assist with identifying student interventions and best ways to help stabilize students in crisis. I also provide resources to parents and assist with safety plans. I focus on helping students make good choices.”

As a school-based clinician first at H. Grady Spruce High School and now at Conrad, Johnson said she works as part of a team with the academic counselor and other team members to make sure students have the tools necessary to be successful. In her second year at Conrad, she also gets referrals from students she has been able to help.

“The need is great,” she said. “We have made mental health services very accessible. Parents can get on the website and indicate a need. Students can talk to a teacher or the school counselor, who then reaches out to me, or students themselves will come to me once they know who I am.”

If the student is under 18, parents are contacted before services are provided, and Johnson works on individual plans to address the issue at school and at home. While she does not provide long-term services, she can refer students and families to one of the district’s 13 Youth and Family Centers or community partners for additional support.

“The benefit of me being in the school all the time is that I can intervene if a student is having a panic attack or help de-escalate a problem,” she said.

She knows that she is making a difference when students tell her that the breathing exercises she taught them to deal with stress or anger are working or when they seek her out to share exciting news or just to talk.

“That’s rewarding,” she said. “I know I have helped my students by giving them the skills to be the best version of themselves, to help them make better choices, and to graduate college, career, and life ready!”