Eric Smith began his career as a journalist--reporting, copy editing and designing. But after a while, he felt something was missing from his life.
Smith became involved with the mentorship program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, so that he could inspire young people.
"I loved it,” he said. “It got to where I was looking forward to that more than I was looking forward to my job. That's when I knew I needed to change careers."
Smith and his wife relocated from Odessa to San Antonio, where he continued working as a journalist. Eventually, while pursuing his alternative certification to become a teacher, he quit his day job to focus his attention full time toward the certification process.
When San Antonio began talking about an early education measure that would be known as Pre-K 4 SA, he couldn’t wait to apply.
"I followed the program since its inception,” he said. “We need this in our community. We need more kids in Pre-K and so I encouraged people to vote when it was out there. Once I saw that they were hiring, I [knew] I really would love to be a part of this."
Smith did not go to the job fairs held around San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Houston. He applied online and was eventually interviewed by a panel of about 10 people. Like speed dating, he had three minutes to impress the board members and city leaders, all who had the goal of hiring the very best.
A city official close to the program who was involved in his initial screening told Texas Public Radio, “He’s amazing.”
Smith’s philosophy of community-oriented classrooms involving parents fit in with what program leaders wanted in a teacher.
Now Smith is unveiling his expectations for the inaugural year of the program, which he thinks will be rigorous and challenging.
"Really what I'm doing is I'm not thinking of just this year for these kids or for any of my student,” Smith said. “I'm thinking of them graduating high school. I'm thinking of them and they're going to college. And so you're just starting them on that path but you have that in mind all the way through, not just one year."
Smith is the only male teacher to be hired by Pre-K 4 SA, according to a city official. Two male teaching assistants have also been hired.
He acknowledged that fact because he realizes he is in the minority when it comes to teaching. But he also thinks it gives him an advantage.
"It's interesting being a male teacher because with the students, because I've taught at an elementary school for six years, I'm a celebrity,” he said. “I'm a celebrity amongst all the kids. All the kids know the guy teacher because there's not many of us. It's really fun. In some ways I feel like the dad of the school."
He said he wasn’t surprised he was selected, although he admits he wasn’t sure how that would affect his chances.
The children, whose families have been notified that they will be a part of the program or have been put on a waiting list, come from all backgrounds. Their demographic make-up isn’t yet clear, but Smith is excited for the first day of school.
He’s expecting a great deal from the children, whether they have a disability or come from a variety of economic situation.
"These kids, they come into my class, they're all going to be expected to do great things because they can do great things,” said Smith.
Smith credited the leaders of the program and the board members for their dedication to the program.
"They care so deeply about education,” he said.
The master teachers will report to work in early August. Although they are certified teachers and have completed federal background checks, they will undergo a separate screening once on the job that’s required by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Aside from the protocols and protections required by law, Smith just can’t wait to meet his new students.
"Their passion for learning drives me to teach them more and to put those expectations really high for them,” he said.