Once a Janitor at the School, Now She’s Their Beloved Teacher After Continuous Study to Earn Degree

What’s the difference between having the dream and living the dream? Hard work and perseverance.

Wanda Smith always wanted to be a school teacher but sometimes meeting life’s demanding realities can mean a dream deferred.

A mother of three, Smith also cared for her mom. Squarely shouldering her family responsibilities, she took jobs as bus monitor and custodian for Brenham Independent School District in Texas.

The hours were grueling, but rather than let her dream die, at age 37, with the support and encouragement of her husband, she added night classes to her schedule.

Nine years on, she finally graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State University. She was a certified teacher at last.

Smith’s story came full circle when she was hired as a first-grade teacher back at Brenham Elementary School. Unfortunately, her mom and beloved sisters didn’t live to see her accomplishment, but she knows they would have been proud of her.

“When I stand in front of my classroom—my classroom—I am living my dream,” Smith said during a TODAY show Teacher Appreciation Day segment with Jenna Bush Hager.

During the pandemic, as some of her students struggled to meet the demands of distance learning, Smith stepped up to the challenge. Noting that many of the kids she teaches come from single-parent families, she began delivering packets of schoolwork to them at home.

It’s no wonder Smith’s kids adore her. In a special surprise ceremony, they shouted their praise and held up big colorful signs declaring their devotion.

The sentiment was echoed by Brenham’s mayor, Milton Tate Jr, who—using one of Smith’s own signature lines—officially declared May 4, 2021 as “Be the Best You Can Be” Wanda Smith Day.

The phrase was also inscribed on a commemorative schoolyard bench, and in addition, a scholarship for up-and-coming teachers at Sam Houston State has been established in her name.

Smith’s life is an example as well as an inspiration. By always striving to be the best she could be, with heart and devotion she graduated from cleaning classrooms to leading classrooms—and that certainly puts her on our honor roll.

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