Almost no one works in the same business for 48 years anymore, especially a business they once disliked. But for Olga Math, being a teacher and counselor across nearly five decades, was the perfect antidote for growing up and hating school.
“I never liked school,” she says. “If you looked at my high school and college transcript, you would ask how this kid even get into college. But when I was doing what I wanted to do in grad school, I only made one B.”
The Victoria native retired this year from her counseling position at Woodrow after working in education for almost 50 years, 47 of them in Dallas ISD.
In the 1970s, Math taught at Greiner Middle School in Oak Cliff, as the district began to integrate, but Math says there wasn’t too much racial conflict at her school, which was and is an Exploratory Arts Academy (more on that in our Oak Cliff Advocate).
Math went to get her counseling degree when she was tasked with a particularly tough group of students known as status offenders. This means that they had committed crimes that were illegal because of their age, such as being truant or drinking alcohol.
“I needed more knowledge than I had to work with troubled kids. I never intended to become a counselor,” she says.
Though she enjoyed teaching, she was asked to be a counselor at a different school. Math was hesitant to leave Greiner, but after a visit to a fortune-teller, she was told, “a building is a building and a people are a people.”
It is said that the best counselors are the ones who have struggled just as those they are counseling. For Math, that seems to be a fitting truth. “I know what it was like to make yourself invisible because you didn’t do your homework.”
Her counseling career led to stints at Sunset, where her former students have begun the process of making a scholarship in her name. She was also at Skyline and central office before she landed at Woodrow. Budget cuts ended her position as a counseling supervisor downtown, and she chose to join the East Dallas high school six years ago.
She was thrilled with her time there and appreciated the students’ attitudes. “I absolutely loved it. In my years as a supervisor, I was at every comprehensive high school in Dallas. I have never come across a group of kids that are nicer. I would say there are no kids in Dallas ISD that can hold a candle to the Woodrow kids.”
“Woodrow could be a powder keg that could explode because of all the differences,” she says of the diverse racial and economic backgrounds of the students. “It never has and I don’t think it ever will. There are so many multi-generational families at the school from both sides of the tracks. There is definitely a Woodrow mystique.”
Math has also embraced the community that makes Woodrow special in her eyes. “I also saw how the Lakewood community entrusted a public school with their children and demanded a high standards, which brought up the level for everybody. They could send their kids anywhere, and they haven’t given up on public education. They trust us with what is most precious.”
In almost five decades of teaching, much has changed. Math is critical of how little actual counseling school counselors get to do these days. She says they mostly work on schedules and deal with counting credits. She also laments the focus on testing, and wants teachers to be able to teach without administrative pressure to zero in on the test.
With all the changes, she retains her optimism towards kids. Through tears, she says, “I never met a kid that didn’t want to do well. I never met a kid that woke up and said, ‘I want to get up and go to school today and I am going to get in trouble.’ The constant is the good in kids, and that that is what I am going to miss.”
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