Diana Rios tells her students at Ettrick Elementary School, “I love you, have a good day” every school day.
She is a firm believer that every day is a new day and her students know when they walk in, they are starting with a clean slate.
Rios said the school had recently lost a fifth-grader in a car crash and that you never know when you’ll see a student for the last time.
“They have to know that someone, especially some of them that don’t have moms or a stable home life, [loves them],” she said.
A former student of hers who still visits her class from time to time because he told her she is a mother figure for him, and her students know they can go to her if they need something.
“Truth be told, they may have gotten on the bus, left the house, who knows what they’ve left where …. you don’t know the situation that they just left, and so you [want to] make sure that they feel like this is it,” Rios said. “Until we meet that need, how am I [going to] ask them to learn fractions? How am I [going to] ask them to learn a main idea? They’re not [going to] be able to do that unless they feel and know they’re in a safe and caring classroom community.”
“My teaching style is … helping them get past where they’re from so … they can focus on their academics,” Rios said.
This is her 12th year as a teacher and her third at Ettrick Elementary.
Rios has taught kindergarten, first grade and second grade before, and this is her second year teaching third grade. She said she likes third grade, and although there’s added pressure because it’s a testing grade, the students seem to enjoy it.
“In third grade, the focus shifts in reading, from learning to read to reading to learn, so they know how to read already, and now we’re teaching them those fundamentals of getting into a text and what ii is actually saying and understanding that,” Rios said.
She pursued education because she wanted to be like the teachers from her childhood who took extra time to build relationships and knew about her and her family. She was named Teacher of the Year for the 2018-2019 school year.
Rios notes that her husband is in the military, so she has also taught in Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. She graduated from Texas State University and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in administration and supervision because her career goal is to be an administrator.
Rios is the new teacher/mentor coordinator for the school and a clinical faculty coach through VCU, which requires her to co-teach with a resident teacher (currently Megan Bottoms) for the school year.