A continuing passion for education
When Rebecca Palacios describes one of the highlights in her 34-year teaching career, it almost sounds like a scene from a movie. Based on the book Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen, Palacios was teaching her preschool students the concepts of sink and float with a toy boat and a toy mouse in a pool of water. When she grabbed the mouse, placed it on the boat, and sank the boat, her students broke into spontaneous applause. “They were stunned that this would happen,” she recalls. “When young children will clap at the end of your lesson without anyone telling them to—that’s a high.”
Imparting knowledge to students in fun and creative ways is among the many reasons she became a preschool teacher. “Early childhood provides a true integration of content in a thematic approach,” says Palacios, who retired from the Corpus Christi (Texas) Independent School District last year. For instance, when she would teach her students about plant and animal families, she would incorporate those topics in her math, science, social studies and literacy lessons. Palacios especially enjoyed the challenge of explaining complicated ideas to young children.
During her career, Palacios mostly taught low-income Hispanic children who benefited from her expertise. She is a National Board Certified teacher who holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on early childhood education. A Corpus Christi native, Palacios is also fluent in Spanish. As a child she attended Zavala Elementary School, where she later taught dual immersion preschool. Her decision to become a bilingual teacher at her alma mater was intentional: “I wanted to go back to the community that had supported me as a young child.”
At Zavala, Palacios worked closely with families who were recent immigrants and who had come to this country seeking a better life for their children. “The rapport she had with the parents was wonderful,” says Mary Clary, a former teacher. Clary was Palacios’ substitute teacher for six years when Palacios served on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and traveled regularly on the board’s behalf. Clary says that even two years later, after their students had left Palacios’ class, families would ask her advice. “Please Dr. Palacios, can you speak to my son, my daughter? They’re not obeying the teacher,” Clary recalls. Palacios would listen and make suggestions. “She was just so compassionate with these parents.”
Although no longer in the classroom, Palacios remains engaged in education. She serves on the AFT’s English Language Learner cadre, which advocates for ELL students and provides professional development to ELL teachers. She serves as a senior curriculum adviser with ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy, an online curriculum. And she helps with professional development in her local union, the Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers. Palacios also writes about educational issues. In October 2011, the Huffington Post published her article on the importance of language-building experiences for young children. With all her commitments, Palacios admits that in a sense she hasn’t really retired: “From teaching yes, but not from the profession.” [photo by Karen Sachar]