In August 2014, Leslie Ramirez walked into Arlington Collegiate High School (ACHS), the brand-new early college high school on the TCC Southeast campus, as a ninth grader. She was very excited and a little bit apprehensive.
In August 2021, Leslie Ramirez walked into the same building, this time as a brand-new English teacher. She was very excited and a little bit apprehensive.
“It’s very much the same but different at the same time,” she said. “I was as nervous as any first-time teacher would be, but the support here never stops. The other teachers are always checking on me, asking if I need any help. So, it feels almost like I never left.”
Applying for ACHS was a hard decision. She ordinarily would have started at Martin High School and wanted to be a cheerleader. But cheerleader tryouts and the deadline for ACHS application were the same day. Her friends implored her to choose Martin, she said, “but something told me this is where I belonged. It was the best decision I could have made.”
While it may seem as if she never left, she did, as a member of ACHS’s first graduating class in 2018. Armed with her high school diploma and TCC degree, she progressed to the University of North Texas.
According to her instructors, Ramirez was a model student with a laser focus on the future. “She knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was in high school,” said Jennifer Fuller, who taught her English in ninth and tenth grades. “Once she made up her mind, it was full steam ahead. She’s incredibly hard working.”
That full head of steam powered her to a bachelor’s degree in English in a single year, thanks to her TCC degree. The master’s in education took two years, and it would have been sooner had COVID not postponed her practice teaching.
“Oh, man, she was just very driven,” said Julia Mims, another former teacher. “I mean, she’s 21 and already has her master’s degree. Everything she did, she wanted to be done well and whatever she puts her mind to, she is going to get there one way or another.”
Last spring, before leaving UNT, Ramirez began to explore the job market and wrote about her search on social media. Good thing, because Fuller spotted her post. “I knew we would have an opening,” Fuller said, “so I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you’d want to come here, but if you’re interested you should contact the principal.’ We were just thrilled. We English teachers absolutely loved the idea of her being here and getting to work with her.”
Ramirez absolutely loved the idea, as well, but there was a niggling worry. Her former teachers and the faculty were excited, she said, but Principal Jeff Krieger, in an initial interview, seemed a bit doubtful that coming to teach where one had been a student only four years ago was a good idea. “He had every right to be skeptical,” she said, “and I told him, ‘I want what’s best for the students. And if that’s me, put me in and I will give it my all. If not, I’ll understand and there are no hard feelings.’”
But on May 4, four days after her UNT graduation, she received a call from Krieger asking her to come in for another interview. “And he offered me the job that day,” she said. Her immediate reaction was a spell of nervous laughter, after which she apologized, saying she had been taken by surprise and hadn’t known what to expect. “Everybody’s sure about you,” Krieger said, “and I am, too.”
She was hesitant to tell her classes that she was a former student. “I went back and forth on that,” she said, “but I spoke to the principal and teachers and we all kind of agreed that maybe it would be a good thing and might help motivate them (her students).”
Good choice. She has been peppered with questions, not only from her freshman students, but also from sophomores, juniors and even seniors, all wanting to know what to expect, what they should do later in high school and even in college. “They’re asking me the questions I was hoping they’d ask,” she said, “what they can do to be successful. I give them all the information I can. I tell them, ‘I didn’t just come here and fly through. It was hard, but if you reach out to us (the faculty) and use the support and resources you have here, you will be successful.’”
Mims called Ramirez’ situation “kind of a weird paradox. She was looking at the school through a student’s lens and now she’s a teacher. But she absolutely can commiserate with them far more than anyone else. She’ll have instant connections with them, and I think she has the ability and potential to resonate.”
Fuller sees it from a slightly different angle. “As teachers we think we know what works for kids,” she said, “but she can actually tell us what might not work as well as we think and give her perspective as a student. It’s really incredible seeing her work with her students and support them.”
While Mims and Fuller both remember her as “driven,” Ramirez says that, no, it’s just that she likes to have a plan—a 10-year plan that starts anew each year. The plan currently includes teaching a few years, earning her certification to be a principal or assistant principal and then getting her doctorate in educational leadership with an eye to becoming a school district administrator.
“Then, I just want to keep going,” she said.
I just love education, and when you have good teachers who are passionate, you create a system where you can’t fail. We want our kids to be as successful as possible, and that’s my dream–for everyone to have that opportunity.
All that, however, is down the road, the section of which now confronting her is having the same kind of hurdles everyone faces in the first job of a career. But she has plenty of coaching to surmount them. It’s almost like she’s a chick with multiple mother hens. Mims even changed classrooms so as to be next door. “We want to support her as best we can,” Fuller said. “We are definitely going to check in with her but not overwhelm her with help.”
And Ramirez is glad of that help. “I was so nervous the first day,” she said. “You realize all the little details you may be paying not enough attention or too much attention to. But people would come in and, when I told them how it went, would say, ‘You did good—really good.’”
She is happy with her role as teacher, adviser and confidant, wanting her students to see her as someone who understands both sides of the teacher-student coin. “And I also hope that I might somehow show them what’s possible,” she said. “I’m young. I’ve done a lot and matured a lot. I’ve gotten to a good position. I earned it at a young age, but they can do that, too, if they really try.”