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From custodian to teacher: Cantu captures American Dream

From custodian to teacher: Cantu captures American Dream
Posted on 09/12/2018
CTHS AP Spanish/Bilingual teacher Elsa Cantu

CTHS AP Spanish/Bilingual teacher Elsa Cantu
by Dwight Henson
PISD Communications

Starting out as a Pasadena ISD custodian, Elsa Cantu has broken through language barriers and overcome obstacles to become an AP Spanish/Bilingual teacher at CTHS. She passes inspiration on to her students as they break through their own barriers, reminding them they can accomplish their goals with the right amount of focus and determination.

 “I survived, married with kids and with limited language comprehension,” said Cantu.

Cantu received a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Autonomous University of Nuevo León in Monterrey, Mexico in 1980. She then moved to the United States to be closer to family.

Unable to speak English, Cantu worked as a custodian at Pasadena ISD from 1984 to 1988, working at Frazier, Atkinson and the administration building.

After her children started attending elementary school, she became a teacher’s aide at Richey Elementary, while she took night classes at San Jacinto College and earned an associate degree in ESL and English. She pursued her education with the dream of having the same schedule as her kids.

Cantu went on to earn another bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University in Spanish. She then earned her teaching certification in Spanish/Bilingual from the University of Houston, and began teaching at Houston ISD.

“I believe in education. It can change your life. Education doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be a millionaire or rich, but you’re going to have more opportunities,” said Cantu. “The more skills you get from education, the better opportunity you’re going to have.”

Cantu’s son and daughter both graduated from South Houston High School with honors and each went on to earn bachelor’s degrees from the University of Houston.

“I told them that if mama can get a degree with all the limitations I had in English, there’s no excuse for them to not have a degree,” said Cantu.

Throughout her time in HISD, Cantu still called PISD home and jumped at the opportunity to return when CTHS opened its doors in 2014.

She then attended the AP College Board Summer Institute at Rice University where she received additional training to become a more effective AP teacher.

“You have support from Pasadena ISD, your administrators, your co-workers. In different meetings when we go on trainings, you feel it: they’re here to help one another,” said Cantu. 

In addition to responsibility, discipline, organization and community support, Cantu’s focus on helping others motivated her to accomplish her goals.

“I love teaching because I feel I’m doing something for the world, for the community, for the kids and for the future,” said Cantu.