DeAnda ES teacher shares secrets behind 50+ years in the classroom

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and other team members, the district’s current longest-serving employee, DeAnda Elementary School teacher Dr. Johnnie Carter, talks about some of the biggest changes she’s seen in education over the past 53 years, which former superintendent spurred her to reach higher professionally, and what keeps her coming back to the classroom.

You were first hired back in October of 1959, when Eisenhower was president, gas only cost about 25 cents a gallon, and Alaska and Hawai’i had just been admitted to the union. I imagine you’ve seen some pretty big changes in education since that time. Which ones have made you the proudest to be a part of HISD?

Dr. Johnnie Carter

One thing is that schools were segregated when I started and there was a lot of push toward desegregation. There were people at the time in leadership positions willing to work cooperatively to integrate schools in a peaceful manner and to use educational programs as a basis. If I remember correctly, that was when magnet schools began to pop up.

A lot of people were not willing to change, but that the district did have a plan in mind that would offer something to all groups made it easier for people to accept it. Although the courts have long since settled it, the district continues to put a focus on diversity and offer the very best education to all children. Administrators look at what’s going on in society and the economy, and the ills that are occurring, and strive to rectify those things through school programs.

Right now, you teach fourth-graders at DeAnda Elementary School on Houston’s southeast side. Have you always taught that age group in that area?

No. I’ve been at DeAnda since it opened, but I started out with fourth-graders at the old Gregory on Wilson, one of the oldest black schools in the city. That became Gregory-Lincoln Educational Center, and later the Black Heritage Museum. I was there for 10 years.

After that, I taught at Burbank Elementary. That was during the “crossover,” when black teachers went to white schools and white teachers went to black ones. Back then, a lot of students’ needs were addressed at particular schools, rather than at the home campus, so when I first went to Burbank, I was teaching a reading clinic, and students were bused in from the surrounding schools.

I met (former superintendent of schools) Dr. Kaye Stripling at Burbank and she let me know that I needed to go further with my career. There was a program called Teacher Corps at the time, which was similar to Teach for America, and she encouraged me to apply for a job with the project, so I did. I worked with Roosevelt and Burbank elementaries through that, as well as Burbank Middle School and Sam Houston High School. I was also responsible for four interns from the University of Houston. Later, I worked with Ann Patterson at West University Elementary School and became a counselor.

What’s been your favorite subject to teach over the years?

Well, I’m not sure it really has to do with teaching. When I went back to school and earned my doctorate, my focus changed. Now, I concentrate more on policy and teaching philosophies, and how those things affect schools. With all the testing, it’s sometimes hard to look ahead, but I’m really big on being able to take the long view, and making sure kids learn the things they need to succeed, rather than just teaching to the test.

You recently marked your 53rd anniversary with the district. How do you keep up with the young people in your classes and all of the technological advances in your profession?

I guess I have learned some way to get around that. I do the necessary and I get it done, but I am a very interactive and perceptive person, and I’ve found I can get more from people face to face. People will put things in an email that they won’t say to you face to face, and I don’t like that. I want to be able to ask clarifying questions.

Technology is wonderful, but if students can’t master the basics, how can they do anything requiring higher order thinking on a computer? You have to bring the knowledge to the computer.

After teaching for so long, what keeps you coming back to the classroom?

First of all, a feeling of security. I think I know what it takes to teach. No matter which movement is in vogue, the pendulum eventually swings back and forth. I know enough about that to be able to mediate the contradictions.

Do you ever plan to retire?

I never think about it. Work has always been a part of my life. I see people I worked with retire and come back as subs, and I don’t see the advantage in it. I prepared for this as a career. Why leave it if I like it and it continues to be satisfying?

If you know a graduate, student, employee, or other member of Team HISD who should be featured here, please email us at info@houstonisd.org.