San Jac Certified: Award-winning educator believes teaching goes beyond classroom

06.17.2016 | By Rob Vanya

Kindergarten teacher and San Jac Certified graduate Tammy Verstrate won the statewide 2015 HEB Excellence in Education Award.

Tammy Verstrate grew up in El Salvador. She earned an associate degree in teaching from San Jacinto College in 2006 and a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Houston Downtown in 2008. She serves as bilingual kindergarten teacher at Stewart Elementary School in Kemah. She was named the 2015 Stewart Elementary Teacher of the Year and also earned the statewide 2015 HEB Excellence in Education Award. She and her husband Douglas live in Dickinson.


QUESTION: Why did you choose education as a career path?


TAMMY VERSTRATE: I grew up in El Salvador during a civil war. It was hard to find a job and the economy was in terrible condition. That pushed my father to emigrate to America. My siblings and I could not understand why he had to leave. Mom explained that he did it so we might have a better life. We continued going to school and tried to live a normal life. The only place I felt safe was school. I loved school because for a few hours a day I could forget the chaos and craziness surrounding my life. I admired and loved my first grade teacher Mrs. Ruiz so much that I wanted to be like her. I remember playing school at home with my siblings. After graduating from high school, I took a job as a substitute teacher. Seeing children excited about learning brought back memories of Mrs. Ruiz and my first grade class. That’s when I decided to attend college and become a teacher.


Q: What is your greatest reward as a teacher of young children?


TV: All the experiences I had to go through to become a teacher have been worthwhile. I am thankful that in the midst of all the danger, confusion and chaos of my childhood, I had a loving teacher who provided a safe environment for me to learn. Now I have the awesome responsibility to re-create a refuge for children so they can reach their full potential. For some of them, school is their only hiding place where they can forget the chaos and craziness surrounding their lives for few hours a day. As a second language learner I am able to understand the frustration that foreign students experience when they do not speak English. Seeing students learning and excelling not only in their native language, but also in a second language, is one of the greatest accomplishments of my career. The moments I treasure the most are when I watch children look back through their notebooks and see for themselves how far they have come and how much they have learned. It warms my heart to see the look of joy on their faces as they are filled with self-confidence and the belief that they can do anything. I can’t help but smile and be proud. I believed in them the whole time, just like Mrs. Ruiz believed in me.


Q: Any plans sometime in the future to perhaps pursue a doctorate degree and pursue another type of position in education, such as a principal, or perhaps another type of administrative position?


TV: I see myself as a teacher until I can’t walk anymore. I plan to continue learning about the best practices to teach second-language learners. My goal is to enable students to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. I know my passion for teaching has inspired other teachers to make a telling contribution. Therefore, I would like to become an expert at teaching in a dual language classroom and hopefully become a coach and train new teachers.


Q: What is your personal teaching philosophy? How do you make the subject matter interesting to young students?


TV: My teaching style and techniques are always evolving through professional development, peer collaboration and observing and listening to students. I believe the key to effective teaching is to keep students engaged, motivated and constantly moving. I believe learning should be fun and meaningful. My lessons are interactive and hands-on. Many activities involve a total physical response by the students. I integrate language development with math, science and social studies and daily routines. We speak Spanish on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and English on Tuesday and Thursday. I use gestures, pictures and songs to help them understand social and academic language. It is rewarding to see that by the second part of the year, they understand classroom directions and routines in their second language and some are already communicating in their second language. Bravo!


Q: Why is it important for society to have gifted and dedicated educators? 


TV: Teaching goes beyond classroom walls. We are preparing students for the workforce, promoting good citizenship and reinforcing values. We are always striving to develop well-rounded individuals who will become contributing members of society. We have the privilege to educate our future doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, writers and teachers. 


San Jacinto College offers a range of teaching degree options. For more information, please visit

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

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