Brenda Gardner shares her thoughts as she begins her 50th year at DISD

After 49 years in education in many different capacities, one can imagine that there are so many memories. In fact, after this many years, I have probably forgotten more than I remember. I retired in June 2022 after 48 years and now work part time for DISD

I think I will go backwards in time. After I went to the intermediate and elementary in 2006, I decided the name of my book would be “Nobody Told Me”. I had been at DHS for 32 years—I wasn’t in any way prepared for the difference.
Nobody told me kids line up—for everything! When I asked why, I was told, “You’ll figure it out.” And, I did. So many times as principal, I told staff—“be sure you line them up and count.” We had to be sure we came back with the same number we went with.
Nobody told me there are no bells at elementary. How do you keep up? For high school teachers, the bell ending class means a restroom break or a chance to go get a Diet Coke (that was my beverage of choice). At elementary, teachers have to wait for an aide to come to the classroom or ask someone to cover for them for a couple of minutes. In high school bells signify the passing of the day. Elementary teachers have a built-in clock. They just know—I never did figure out how, they just do.
Nobody told me there is “bodily fluid” duty every—single—day. Wiping noses, tears, scraped knees, and lots of other stuff is on the daily regimen of things to do.
Nobody told me what holidays, Meet the Teacher, and Public School Week are like at an elementary. There are no crafty gifts for moms or dads at high school for Christmas. High school teachers throw up a few posters for Meet the Teacher, and wait. Elementary teachers go waaaaaay beyond. The first year or two I walked around with my mouth hanging open.
Nobody told me I would go home crying lots of days. Sometimes little kids tell more than you want to know.
BUT—nobody told me of all the joy children create in another person’s life. They want to learn; they have such a wonder about the world; they thought I was beautiful!
Being an elementary principal were some of the most gratifying years in my career. Before those years, came many at the high school. There were so many things I learned from teachers and staff members at CES. To name a few—Becky Tyler, Gail Cooley, Melissa Lyles, Betty Morgan, Claudia Holzhaus—were all about my age. So I didn’t feel quite as stupid asking them a question. I remember Betty telling me to NEVER drink from a water fountain. When I asked why, she just pointed to a child drinking. Children put their entire mouths on the water flow. Now water fountains are a rarity—there are bottle fillers.
I came to Devine High School in the fall of 1974 as a journalism and English teacher. I spent 32 years there. I knew how many ceiling tiles were in each hall—not really, but that is lots of time spent walking those halls.
I had many principals, but Bob Bendele stands out as the best. I learned so much from him that I would use later when I became a principal. I will tell you that he got mad at me a few times. When he came to the lounge and said, “Mrs. Gardner…”, I know I was in trouble.
There were so many wonderful staff members. I don’t dare start naming them because I would have to make too many apologies for leaving many “someones” out.
My first classroom was downstairs in the multi-purpose room in what is now the technology department. I loved it because the room had windows—I could see every person who walked in the school. Just so you know—all journalists are curious (an euphemism for nosey)—that’s what makes us good at what we do. And, yes, I know I could have covered them, but that wouldn’t have been as fun.
The band hall was in the MPR—forget about having first period anything on Fridays. It was soooo loud.
Jo Ann Burleson was my first yearbook editor and Laureen Chernow was my first newspaper editor. I learned from them and maybe, they learned a little from me. Jo Ann went on to be a journalism teacher and Laureen worked in the field in Austin.
During those years, things were far different from today. When I got pregnant with Jimmy, Matt Hales would go get me a hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen every day during yearbook. That might explain those 50 pounds.
I moved to the ag building after about nine years downstairs. If you remember that old building, it was certainly was not sealed well. When we would get heavy rain, it came in under the wall that faced the outside. There were mice—families of them, and bats in the ceiling.
There was the time we saw a mouse, and Shannon Rackley climbed up the wall. And, I mean literally up—the—wall. Marly Davis and Kyla Perry named them when they were in newspaper.
In the early days teachers could have student aides. I had many. Jolinda Center would go pick up Jason from the babysitter and take him to school. Buddy Wheeler and Johnny Byrd would go buy groceries for me, take my dry cleaning—all kinds of errands. Those were the days of film and wet darkrooms, so there were always the trips to Conoly Drug to drop off color film to be developed.
Selling ads for the newspaper and yearbook was a key event. Yes, kids drove their cars and went out to make this happen. Jim Sessions and Joe Navarro prided themselves on being the top salesmen ever. I also had them for English III. Always remember why Thoreau went to the woods.
And, oh, the darkroom–I don’t even pretend to know everything that happened in there. I knew that sometimes kids—Audra Terry, to name one—would go out the back door that led to the ag hall and go buy tacos. The dead giveaway is that they would leave the foil by the enlargers—duh!
I got certified in speech and taught that for several years. Obviously, kids had to give speeches. I recall that Larry Burford just would not give his. It was a two-minute deal. He was going to fail. At that time this was a required course for graduation. So, I called his mom, Brenda. I told her that I did not care what the speech was about—tying his shoes would work. And, so, the next day Larry gave his demonstration speech about tying shoes. And, he passed.
I coached UIL events—lots of them and traveled a lot with kids on buses. Probably, I spent more time with them than I did with my own family. Lots of Saturdays we left at 5 or 5:30 a.m.—way too early! And we got home around 7 or 8 p.m.—lots of long days. But we won lots, so it was worth it. There were lots of two-day meets. I would sleep in my clothes so I could get up and go after only four or so hours of sleep.
During the time when Jay Dee Hicks was counselor and went with us to regional UIL, we had to stop at the creek between Jourdanton and Devine and have a “ceremony”. It was quite formal with lots of lamenting. Harvey Lynch wrote a song about this creek, which Jay Dee sang.
Back in the day before computers, we had files for informative and persuasive speaking—big bins of file folders filled with news articles. We had to use a dolly to get them and in and out of schools. I loved the bus drivers who helped me load and unload all those boxes. Prose and poetry kids were a lot easier—just a notebook. And journalism kids just had to have a pen and paper.
In LaVernia one year Allison Lyles had made it to the finals in informative—not her favorite event. She came out of the library and told me she couldn’t do it, that she was going to throw up. I told her to suck it up, get back in there and do what she needed to do. I know it sounds harsh, but, oh, well… Allison later told me that those words stayed with her, and when she had to do something she really didn’t want to, she would remember. Allison went on the win prose at the state meet her senior year.
I helped with one-act play for many years. My main job for Marion Randow was to be sure there was an adequate supply of Diet Dr. Pepper. There may directors—Deanna Kempen, Mary Rowell, Lori Marek, Kary Yourman—most of the time I really did what I was asked. I was also contest director for many years. I got to see so many talented and dedicated young people—not just Devine’s, but from lots of schools.
We had some fun times on all our trips. I will tell you that most of this was before air-conditioned buses. The trip to regional in Kingsville every year was more than hot. Anyone who has been any kind of club, athletic, any organization sponsor and taken kids on overnight trips remembers staying up until the morning hours making sure all kids were really asleep. As I got older, smarter, and perhaps more cynical, I would tape the doors. Then we could tell if someone had opened one.
When I first started and until just several years before I left the classroom, we “pasted up” the newspaper. The Devine News would “set” copy for us in long galleys. We would cut and use rubber cement to paste those on pages. Toward the end of my career, computers made it to Devine. My first Mac had a screen just a little larger than a postcard. I remember taking it home—it had a carrying case—so I could learn Adobe Pagemaker, which is what we would use for the newspaper. We were going to ILPC, and I was taking a course in that program. I sat at my house at a card table determined that I would not be the dumbest one in that class. I cried over learning that program. There were others who knew less than I did. It was still a few years before we would use a computer to do the entire newspaper. Doing yearbook digitally came even later. Now, it’s hard to imagine doing things any other way. Melody Shultz was the editor of the yearbook when we started doing them electronically. It was way more of a learning curve for me than it was for her.
I was very privileged and blessed to take more than 30 kids to the state UIL meet. I took many newspaper and yearbook staffs to the summer ILPC conference at UT in Austin every June.
Devine ISD has been my “home” for many years. I have had so many wonderful opportunities, and worked with some amazing and dedicated educators.
I am beginning the 50th year in DISD. Thanks to all of you who have made a difference in my life. I am so blessed to be a part of this district and this community.