Talya Avila is a Spanish teacher at an alternative center in Houston. Her passion for teaching and love for her students is almost tangible when she speaks. She is a wife, a mother, a cancer survivor, and a pleasure to talk to.
Interview by Christina Whitten
As an educator, how did the atmosphere change in your classroom after the school shooting in Santa Fe?
Since I am at an alternative center, my kids are used to walking through metal detectors every day. In my class, we talked about the shooting and my kids are 16, 17, and 18 years old and they asked me if I would die for them. I wasn’t ready to just say yes, but I’m a mother hen and I would do what I could to protect them because I am a mom and I would hope that my son’s teacher would do the same. I try to instill in my students to be kind to everybody, because you don’t know what they are going through.
Do you think there is something else parents, teachers, and students could do to ensure safety?
I believe it all starts within the home; I think there is just so much missing. My kids grow up with different backgrounds and it’s much different than what it used to be. I’ve learned that I can only take care of what I do in the classroom, as much as I want to help that kid from home, I only have him for 50 minutes. I can make those 50 minutes the best, but I can’t always change their home environment. On our part, having a security officer at every school is important.
You’ve been teaching for twelve years. Can you say if there is a difference in home life and atmosphere in school between when you first started and now?
There is a huge change. The focus has gone from “What is the student not doing?” to “What is the teacher not doing?” and it’s not always that way. It’s the kid’s job to learn and it’s my job to teach and nowadays we’re almost scared because it’s “What did you do wrong?” every time we talk to a parent. Yes, it’s our job, but I think there should be a shared responsibility.
Do you think because of recent events, teachers and students will be hesitant to come back?
I don’t think so as far as teachers are concerned because we love all our kids and we want to be the person that stops the bullying, that tries to instill values that maybe they don’t get at home. For the parents it’s different. My sister has a five-year-old that goes to elementary and the day that [the shooting] happened she said, “I don’t even care if my son learns anymore; I just want him to come home alive.” That’s how parents are feeling these days.
As a community, do you feel there is something we all can do to make a change?
Community can always help by making all demographics feel welcome and comfortable. I think if we had more open community things where the whole school is invited, it would make a difference. Especially if we could have leaders from all types of backgrounds so that all demographics could feel comfortable to come forward.
Do you think having more opportunities for parents to be involved could make a difference?
It’s all about having an open classroom, but a lot of our parents are working two jobs. I feel like sometimes we are super hard on the kids and we really have no idea what they are going through at home. We don’t want to use that as a crutch, but it reminds me of that poem “I Didn’t Bring A Pencil.” I am not going to be mad at a student because they didn’t bring a pencil when I know they are living out of their car or going from hotel room to hotel room. We have to understand that family dynamics are different than [they] used to be and we shouldn’t think we are better or worse [than others], but we have to learn to work with them and what they have.