Modesta Barbina Trevino


As Interviewed by Danielle, March 13, 2013

Modesta Barbina Trevino: In Her Own Words

My name is Modesta Barbina Trevino, and I want to tell you that I didn’t discover that I had a middle name until I traveled for the first time and I needed to get my passport, because when I was in school I was called Brenda. And, I grew up here in Austin, and I even went to school at Sivala. I went to school at Allen Junior High, and then I went to school at Johnston. So, I felt very good that I got to even teach in East Austin, at one of the first bilingual elementary schools called George Sanchez, because he was the founder of bilingual ed. When I first started teaching, it was at Allen, where they did integration, or what they call desegregation, that’s when it began. Some of the students from the West Side would go to the East Side, and some of the students from the east side would go to the west side, so I got to experience that, in my early years of teaching.

I honestly can tell you that I feel like my activist began, not just in education, in Civil Rights. When I was a University student, I actually started at the University in 1968. Back in those days, my brother was in Vietnam. I mean people were out there marching against the war in Vietnam, and I think because we had the draft, people of all colors were joining. Plus, in Austin we had what we called the Cogny Furniture Strikers, and they were fighting against the Likewood Storage, which was not elevating their wages, and abusing their human rights. And so, people were very active in the that. The thing is, we had the Farm Workers Movement, because of the pest asides and the contamination. And, Cesar Chavez came to support the Cogny furniture strikers. And I have a photo that I took with him and one of the Cogny Furniture Strikers ladies. And, to me that’s where it began, I think because of that, that’s why we got into bilingual education. There was a great demand, because we did have a lot of children that could not speak English, and that’s where people promoted that, at the college level. And I would tell my students that I’ll never forget my mother, how some teachers that wanted to come in, to take lessons from my mom to teach the Spanish language, because they wanted to be able to communicate with some parents who could not communicate in English. And that doesn’t mean that there were a whole bunch, back in those days there wasn’t a whole bunch of students. In my days, my language was English, my father worked on the West Side. And, I used to tell my students, “Oh, we didn’t cross the river, but my father had to cross the IH-35,” just playing with words. And that’s how he was very good in English, and my mother was mostly Spanish speaking. But, teachers were very grateful that she would help them with Spanish.

I taught for twenty-seven years. When I first started teaching, we had at least six bilingual coordinators. We even used to meet periodically, twice a year, so we could compare and contrast, what we were doing, what was working, and what was not working. But now, with the change of everything that has been going on, and the thing that really hurts, is what I call the Test Taking Market. I didn’t realize that it was a market, I thought it was really “Leave no child behind.” In terms of trying to find a format to be able to say that the students were actually performing at the level they should be. I remember when I went to U.T., you had to take the test. And I didn’t pass the test, but the way I was able to stay was I went to summer school. But what I found is that, to be really honest, when it comes to multiple choice tests, one of the things we used to do was work as a team. For example, I and another teacher would integrate the students, but when it came to math and reading, we would say “Ok, you teach the Spanish and I’ll each the English” because, they needed to work with their dominate language. But then when it came to the signs and the math, we would teach the vocabulary in the second language, so that way we were helping them so they could succeed in the second language. But, the thing is, I could not believe that, one of things we would teach the students is, for the math problems we would say “Show us two or three ways to get there”, because that’s the reality, there’s not just one way to come up with the answer. But now that we have this multiple choice, the kids are getting stuck. And, I can understand why. I found out, that there was this board member from Florida, and he said, “Ok, I want to get a glimpse of what this is like, not just here about it and talk about it.” He had two BAs, he had a master, and he had fifteen hours into a doctoral degree. Well, he took the math test, sixty questions, he only got ten right. And I said, “That’s what we need! We need to go and give this test to the legislators! And say ‘Ok, get a glimpse of what this is like. Don’t just talk about it, don’t just say we’re not gonna leave any child behind,’ because what its doing is leaving more children behind.” And then, you leave a child behind when you go to the University, and you say, “What is the child gonna go into?” And, if he goes into an area where there’s no jobs…What’s gonna be there for them? A bill. See, and all of these things I feel like they need to be put out in the open, and they need communicate to parents on a one-to-one level.

I found out that some of the charter schools, I went in and sat in with the parents that came in, and I did it because I felt like, “ I have a right. I’m a retired teacher, I have a granddaughter,” and what I opted to do is to sit in with the bilingual parents. And, the first thing they asked, “Are you gonna hire bilingual teachers?”, and the presenter said, “Oh yes. We start ESL at the Pre-K.” I knew that, for me, that was totally merger. “Well, are we going to be able to come in and have lunch with our children?”, because that’s how we talk to the teachers, “Oh no, you can’t do that.” Well they discovered that they were gonna do away with P.E., art, and music. And, for me it really, really hurt, and I’m pretty sure it hurt them. And, it made me wonder, “Where are the board members? Do they know this? How are the younger class students gonna be able to get into music, P.E., and art?” For these kids to get into orchestra, for these kids to get into physical for their health. Where does that come from? Than it made me wonder, “What are they gonna do? Is this a market to buy computers and have one teacher teach thirty-five students?” These kids are not gonna have computers at home. So, that’s what made me become active, and be speaking out there on behalf of the teachers and your generation, my granddaughter, the children, and my students.

I could not understand why they don’t allow parents to come in. I can understand if the students are having to do work. Then it makes me wonder, for example, one of the things, when it came time for parent teacher conference, I would tell my parents, “I want you to bring your child, and I want you prepare to spend thirty minutes with me for the conference,” because one thing that I felt, not only as a teacher, but as a parent myself, is I didn’t want my parents to think, when the students have homework, especially at the primary level, that all I want them to do is to send them to the corner to read. I wanted to model for them what I mean by interaction. And, one of the things that I would, is I would ask them, “Do you read? Can you read? And, in what language can you read? Can you read Spanish, or English?” and, thy would tell me yes or no. If they could not read, I would say, “What I want you to do is have your child read it to you. And, what I want you to do, just like when you look at the Novelas, when you talk to your sisters or your neighbors about the Novelas, think about that interacts with your life.” Just like when I see a movie, or I read a book, my friends and I would talk about it and see if we could relate to the theme. Before we would read a story, I would think about it and the kind of questions I would ask them that relate to the story, and the students would always ask me, “Ms. Trevino, tells about your life and that story before you read it.” And that’s how I would interact, and how I would teach the students or the parents, because not only are you gonna have some people that say, “Those parents don’t care,” its our responsibility to show them how to interact.

Recently, I did go to the Save Texas Schools rally, this past March at the capitol, and one of the things that I used to carry with me, that brings up lot of attention, was signs with some of my husband’s images, and I would have an author approach me and he said, “I really like that. Who did that?”, and I would say, “My husband.”, and he said, “I’m an author, I would like to get to see his work.” Besides that, I remember I did that last year, and I noticed more people carrying signs like this. Sometimes I feel like, when I heard about these people getting rid of library books, I mean, teaching in front of a computer is not the way to interact. I don’t even know, that now a days, people go to the University, and they can do it online, that’s not the way that I learned. I learned by reading, interacting, and communicating, and for me that’s the way that they’re promoting education. Parents need to make an issue out of that, and talk about their experiences, because for me, now that I’m retired, I’ve been going to participate with students at the University, because they need people to come in as educators. Now, I’m finding out, that they actually have to go there and do the foot work, not just sit there and read a book, and go online. Some of them are actually going to other countries, because that’s part of their anthropological studies. We had a meeting, and one of them was saying that she wanted to go and interview a Latina journalist, and some people said, “Well, I know who you can go interview.” And, its amazing, because its a lot of work that the students are having to do at the university level, so if you’re asking them to do activities on the computer, that’s not gonna prepare them for that. Diana Ravish served as the assistant to the secretary of education for Bush. She came to speak at Allen about two months ago, and she talks about all these things of Test Taking Privatization Market, charter schools as a form of privatizing, and vouchers. In the seventies, my husband and I, Crystal’s father, and my daughter, we used to travel to Guatemala and Argentina, back in those days it was safe. That’s when I used to see kids in uniforms and going to private schools, there, if you have a school that is public, all the kids, no matter what age, in one room. And, its all sad because you can’t blame the teachers, when you take out the cream of the crop, and they just leave the students that are really struggling, and they don’t have any models. Where are they going to learn? When they did segregation, when I started teaching, to me that was the way of integrating the students, and learning from each other. My granddaughter gets a letter from Harmony, and I told one of the ladies at a rally, and she said, “Do you know Harmony is run by a Middle Eastern company?” and I said, “No, I did not know that.” But the other thing is, the majority of teachers is female, and to me I don’t want them attacking the women work force. And the majority of ministrations are men, they don’t understand the system, we’re the ones that are doing all the foot work. Believe it or not, we used to hire teachers from Spain, because we needed bilingual teachers. In Spain, the families are small, here the families are big. And, there in Spain, they were already covered, they don’t want the changes that are coming from the U.S. I can understand why some of the new teachers go into teaching, and then they drop out, because its overwhelming with all the tests , tests, tests, its not really a form of teaching. What I liked about teaching, is what I encourage students is, if you like to travel, you’re off for Christmas, you’re off for Spring Break, and you’re off three months for the summer. So, you still get paid, and for me that’s something I really like, aside from working with students. When I started at the University, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was into psychology, then I got into Head Start, and I knew what I wanted to do. So I called St. Ed’s, and I said, “I want to get into bilingual ed”, and they put me on their waiting list. In one week they called me, they gave me a work study to do there, and they gave me a tuition. For me, I just feel that the next generation, and you here about the Dream Act, and its so sad to here that they’re also apart of that.

I sent a letter to the board members about what I discovered about the idea, and in terms of why they thought it was a good idea, and try to educate them with that little link to read little by little. I could not understand why an individual, who was married to someone who had been a teacher before, why she could not make him understand what this was about. What I found out at this reunion is, now they are promoting charter schools in some of the parts of South America. Well, you know what I call it, the Global Wall Market, because when we were in Spain, they told us we needed to leave early, because there was gonna be a city strike, and the pilots were on strike too. They were trying to cut fifty percent of the temporary workers. And I found out that fifty percent were unemployed. When I was in India, I was talking to one of the young guys, and he said he was going there to get married, he’s from Austin, I said, “Who do you work with?”, he said, “Samsung.” There was another guy, who had been in the U.S. seven months, and I couldn’t help but ask him, “What’s your field?” he said, “Technology.” So, we need to prepare our students for technology, so that we don’t have to bring in people from abroad.

I remember that one of my ways of teaching the students how to read with expression, and to learn the second language and voice, I would give them a script, it might be three or four in that play, or maybe the whole class, and every Friday, I’d say, “You have to practice reading these words.” I would see if they were able to read them, then I would see if they could do it with expression. Then, at the end of the semester, all the classes would come and see the play. It was just my way of teaching them how to read, and interacting with them.