JA Counselor, Educator & Veteran Spotlight: Monica Pedroza
About Monica Pedroza:
Monica Pedroza has been an educator and counselor for Irving Independent School District since 1999. Before becoming an educator, she served our country in Army for 24 years. She was a bilingual teacher for 6 years and for the past 16 years, she has been a school counselor at Keyes Elementary School. She has been married to her husband for 31 years!
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. When were you in the military? What branch? What did you learn? Any memorable stories?
When I was 18, I graduated high school and went into the military. I was active duty in the Army for a few years. Then, I was in the Army Reserves. I had two deployments. One was in the 1st Gulf War, and the second was in 2003. It has been about 10 years since I retired. It seems like it was only a few years ago, but it has been since 2012.
I was fortunate and had great parents who gave me great values and taught me well. I think the military taught me great work ethic. I learned how to be responsible and how to work in a team. You never do something just for you, it is about working together as a team. They teach you how to be selfless. It is about getting the mission accomplished. If you have a task you need to do - you go and figure it out. You try and try again until the team gets it done. It is about perseverance and trying over and over again without giving up.
I do feel like it taught me how to grow up and be an adult. I was only 18, but it taught me how to be successful - as a teacher, as a counselor - some of those “how to be successful” lessons came from being in the military.
A person can create deep friendships. In the military, you have had teamwork with other soldiers, and a person can go years without seeing someone. When you finally do see them again, it is like nothing changed and you pick right back up. I miss all those friendships, teamwork and the diverse culture. You learn from each other. I was originally from California, and I grew up in the West Coast. When I was active duty, I was stationed in North Caroline on the East Coast. The military was my family.
I primarily grew up and had a high school that was mostly Hispanic and Caucasian. When I joined the military, I was exposed to a lot more cultures and learning from them. It makes you more aware of everyone’s culture, and you learn how to be respectful. Just because you are used to one way of doing something does not mean that someone else is doing something wrong. You learn to meet in the middle and respect one another in the process. That is so important.
Q: What made you interested in becoming an educator and a counselor? How did you make the transition?
When I was in high school, I remember thinking I am going to be a psychologist. Then, I joined the military and I worked in an office environment, and I did more administrative work when I was active duty. When I went to college, I became a business major and studied finance. After a year or so, I changed focus and somehow landed on teaching. I think some of it was from the friendships I made in school. I heard about it and thought it sounded interesting. I know that this was the right choice for me.
I decided on the education route, and I wanted it to be with a focus in bilingual education since I was in a bilingual program when I was in California. It was my way to give back to the community, and after about two years of teaching, I met a teacher who was going through the counseling program and was bilingual. At the time, our school counselors were doing amazing work, but they only spoke English. We noticed there was a need for bilingual counseling. I will not get into specifics, but will tell you about an example. There was student who was struggling, but no one could understand why this was happening. It was a difficult situation, but that teacher in the middle of the counseling program got approval to work with the student. It was great because the teacher could overcome the language barrier. After a while, we all saw the difference. The child had a transformation. I was completely amazed and said to myself, WOW, I want to do that. You could even see that the student was happier, and other students were affected by the change too.
Q: What would you tell a student if they expressed interest in the joining the military?
For me, it was a great place. I just feel like for me personally, I had more focus after the military. I went to college after, but I knew what I wanted. I got my degree and pursued my graduate degree. I think being older helped me have a better understanding, and it was great work experience. Depending on that work experience, those skills are transferable to the outside working world. It is a great place to learn about yourself and what you are capable of. We all have so much grit. The military does a great job of pulling that out of you because they know you are capable of it. It really builds your self-confidence. Plus, you have perks like building amazing friendships!
At the end of the day, you get out what you put in. If you do what they ask you to do, it will be a great experience. However, if you go in and you are late. If you do not have good work ethic, and they are always reminding you. Then, you might not have a great experience. You learn to have work ethic, to be responsible, to be on time. I know that we tell our students to be on time at school, but when they get older, what is going to happen when they are late to work? You do not want to get fired. There is a reason we ask for students to be on time. There is a pattern. If you are used to waking up late, then it will be a harder cycle to break.
Q: What about those who want to be an educator or counselor?
I have been a counselor for so long now. I would tell our teachers who want to become counselors that I just love being a counselor, and I know it is what I meant to do. There is a deep satisfaction that educators get to see as their students grow academically. I get to see that too, but for a student who might be going through a social or emotional issue. I get to work with that student and see the emotional or social growth. It is all about being there for them and supporting them so that they can become a well-rounded person since they will be running this world!
At our school, we are lucky because our parents are amazing. However, I know there are some students that have a harder time at home. It is important for us to be able to provide a safe environment for them. I love to show our students that we care and believe in them. You can see it build their self-esteem. It is wonderful when you can see the difference that it makes.
Q: What piece of advice do you tell your students or adults?
When I was in the military, my first supervisor was so tough on me. I remember there were moments when I would be upset. When he was going to move to another position, he had individual meetings with each of us. He took me to lunch, and he told me why he was so tough on me. He said that he had high standards because he knew I was capable. He knew I was able to do what he was asking of me. He saw the potential in me.
I would say that there is more value on the things that you work harder for. The harder you work, the more valuable it can become. Even if you are struggling in a class, you worked hard even for that C, and it is the best grade ever. When things do not come easy, I think people end up valuing them more. I do tell my students, it is okay if you are not good at something, just do not give up! You will get there.
For adults, believe in your kids, your students. Keep high expectations of your students because they will rise to the challenge. I truly and firmly believe that our kids are capable, and that if we have those high expectations, our students will rise to them.
Q: Why do you think teaching kids financial literacy – like managing money, budgeting, saving, investing, etc. is so important to teach our youth?
I reflect on my life and how I grew up. My mom always worked and made minimum wage, and my dad was already retired so we lived on a low budget. I do feel that it is great to teach students early on about saving and not spending more than you make. No matter how much you make, saving even just a little bit because that can help you to break the cycle of poverty. Sometimes it is saying – is this a need or want? I was able to see that with my mom. Although my mom did not make that much, she saved. As kids, we never got stuff right away. It was always, we cannot get it right now, but we can save up for it. I really learned that from my mom.
When I joined the military, I had a savings account, but I did not have a checking account. I needed to learn how to write a check before it was everything was electronic. I did not learn because my mom was always dealing with cash. I had a solider who was my age who taught me about a debit card, how to write a check and balance the check book. If it would not have been for that person telling me, you cannot spend more than you make --- it would have been ugly! Ha!
It is so important to teach students that component. If it comes early before they start working, students will learn those skills and start putting money away little by little --- then, maybe one day invest.
For military, there are certain organization that cater to the military, and I ran into someone who worked with soldiers, and that is how I learned about investing money. Otherwise, I would not have done that. I know my mom had a bank account and savings, but she paid everything in cash. However, investing for your retirement, that came from the military and just knowing people. Then you realize, oh, that is what I need to do.
It makes me super happy that JA is teaching our students very early about these concepts even in kindergarten. The students start learning in elementary, and each year they will learn something new. Then, you are like wow can you imagine what they will know by high school! That is the key. They need to have the knowledge. This is an important component that needs to be taught.
I think I would have taken JA in school if I had the opportunity! I saw how my mom really made her money stretch, and if I would have known about that class or it would have been offered to me in high school, I would have probably taken it.
Q: Who do you look up to as a mentor?
I want to say I have several people I look up to from different stages in life. My mom is an amazing woman! She only went to school up in Mexico until 6th grade. She is a true warrior! Also, my husband. When he wants to learn something, he is good about researching it and figuring it out. He is also retired military. In terms of professionally, probably my fellow counselor/teacher. When she became a counselor, I took her role as a teacher. Then, when she went into private practice, I stepped into her role at the school. When I went through the counseling program, she mentored me for a while.
Honestly, I look up to all the amazing counselors and educators at Irving ISD! I think about all the things that we must do as counselors. I know that if I have a problem or need advice that I can go to this person. There are a lot of counselors. I would not be the counselor that I am today without my co-counselor or any of the other counselors. A lot of them have been here for a while now, and I depend on them so much. I became a great counselor, thanks to them. They mentored me! I owe what I am to many of them!
Q: How do you like to receive thanks?
My love language is quality time. I enjoy doing things with people. However, the best gifts I have received from students are the cards. The cards and words that I receive totally makes my day! Or when a teacher creates a gift for me. For example, our pre-k students made a cute project. They made petals out of their hands and put their names on their hands. That is the stuff that makes me the happiest. It is the little notes that totally fills me up! A few years ago, I got a tissue box with little post it notes that the students wrote. I still have it in my home office.