Just as Mario Pureco-Razo, a teacher at Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School, was about to tell his wife the big news, she beat him to the punch.
“I won Teacher of the Year!” Maria Ceron-Ponce said, declaring that she had been named top teacher at her school, Glen Park Elementary.
Pureco-Razo, admittedly a bit deflated, smiled and stared at the giant bouquet in his wife’s arms before he said, “Well, so did I.”
Fort Worth school officials said they can’t remember when a husband and wife were named Teachers of the Year at separate campuses in the same year.
Ceron-Ponce, 34, teaches third grade at Glen Park. Pureco-Razo, 36, teaches pre-kindergarten 5 miles away at Mitchell Boulevard. Both work with students in bilingual programs.
“It was a big surprise for both of us,” Ceron-Ponce said. “We had been nominated before and we were never chosen as Teacher of the Year. We were really not expecting anything.
“It’s not like a competition,” she said. “It’s more like I want him to be good and he wants me to be good and we try to push each other to be better.”
The couple have been married for 15 years and have taught in the district for seven. They were drawn to the U.S. through a certification program that puts viable candidates from Latin America in bilingual classrooms.
Love at first sight
The couple grew up in a tiny town in Mexico and met as students in the computer engineering program at Por Instituto Tecnologico de Celaya in Guanajuato.
She was taking summer courses when he spotted her. Was it love at first sight?
“Yes,” Pureco-Razo said.
“I’m a really, really shy, shy person,” he said. So it took him weeks to win her over.
“Weeks … to get the courage,” he said. “Then one day, one of my friends really encouraged me. We went to buy flowers.”
At first, Ceron-Ponce said, she wasn’t sure whether he liked her. “He said to me, ‘Do you want to go walk with me?’” she said. “So we were talking and walking.
“He asked me if I could help him get something from the car, and then in the car was the flower, and so he told me, ‘Can you give this flower to someone?’
“I was kind of disappointed,” she said. “I told him, ‘OK, I can do that.’ Then he said my name and I said, ‘Oh …’”
“Then we started dating,” Ceron-Ponce said.
After Pureco-Razo received his diploma in computer science engineering, he started working at Procter & Gamble. A year into their marriage, she gave birth to son Diego, now 13.
Ceron-Ponce completed her studies and began teaching English to Spanish-speaking elementary school students.
Soon after Diego was born, Pureco-Razo took a job as an engineering consultant with a large international firm. He was required to travel to South America and spend weeks away from his family, Ceron-Ponce said.
Concerned that their toddler was growing up without a father, the couple looked into becoming educators in the U.S. A special certification program with the state’s Education Service Center in Houston provided a chance for the couple to obtain special visas to travel to the U.S. and become bilingual teachers.
Eventually, both got jobs in Fort Worth.
Each has a different approach to teaching.
Ceron-Ponce likes to encourage students to be collaborators. Her lessons are peppered with work groups and teams.
“I always tell them we’re learning together,” she said.
Her spouse instructs with an engineer’s attention to detail.
“I don’t know if it is just my OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], but I want to have everything under control and everybody is supposed to do a job, so I am constantly checking that everybody is doing their job. I am very alert.”
When he teaches, he pays close attention to the patterns each youngster displays to see what’s tripping them up on a simple math problem or a spelling word. Young students learn tasks by making mistakes, he said. So he focuses on the so-called errors.
“You know precisely when an accident is going to happen if you don’t pay attention to it,” he said.
“I’m going to give you an example. A child is jumping from the steps. He starts jumping from the first, then the second. If you don’t stop him before he gets to the fourth, he might break a leg.”
Teaching is like engineering, he said.
“I remember when I was working as an engineer, I had to do complex problems,” Pureco-Razo said. “If you missed something, it could break the whole thing down and your downtime means less money. So I learned to pay attention to those details.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705