When Jerrie Jackson was in grade school, she watched how her younger sister was separated from her class and placed with the special education students in a room isolated from the other classrooms.
Jackson’s younger sister, Deann, suffers from a learning disability that impairs her reading. The windows in the classroom Deann was placed in were covered and the door was always closed.
Through her sister’s experience, Jackson was inspired to become an educator.
“She was in special education when it had this mystique and this mystery,” Jackson said. “I watched how she struggled and I wanted to find ways to help her and kids like her.”
Jackson is the chair of Our Lady of the Lake University’s Education Department and teaches most of the curriculum and assessment education classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has been at the University for 16 years, but her career in education began before that.
Jackson, originally from Houston, received her Bachelor’s degree in Education with concentrations in Elementary Education and Special Education from Trinity University. She received her Master’s degree in Educational Administration, also from Trinity and in 1996 graduated with her doctorate in Special Education Administration from the University of Texas in Austin.
Since then, Jackson has worked in several San Antonio school districts where she taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She has also worked in the districts’ central offices and with curriculum.
She remembers how teachers and professors throughout her life served as motivation in her career path.
“I loved my fourth grade teacher,” Jackson said, referring to a Mrs. Mallory, who taught at Walnut Bend Elementary in Houston. “She loved each of us and found a way to make each of us feel special.”
Jackson said Mrs. Mallory would share who she was with the students and she still remembers that Mallory loved Elvis Presley.
She also got to know her professors at Trinity, who helped her find opportunities to grow and gain experience in her career field.
Jackson remembers having an 8:30 a.m. class with Dr. John Moore, former Education Department chair at Trinity.
“I sometimes hit the snooze button too often and I’d be late,” Jackson said. “He used to make comments like, ‘Oh, Miss. Smith (which was my maiden name) so nice of you to join us’.”
Jackson did not want to be embarrassed by showing up to class late so she would not go. When she received her fall semester grades, she got a B in Moore’s class, so she paid him a visit to ask how she did on her final. After learning that she had made an A on her final and on all of her papers, she asked him why her semester grade was a B.
“’You were tardy and you were absent and if you’re going to be a teacher, you need to show up and you’re expected to show up on time. And if you can’t do that, then you need to change majors’,” she remembers Moore telling her. “I said, “Thank you very much” and I learned to show up to class.”
This surprised Jackson because her dad used to tell her that the University did not care if she went to class and that it only wanted the money they paid for her tuition.
“But I found that that really wasn’t true and I share that story with students in my classes now because I want them to be on time and show up,” she said.
In the classroom, Jackson focuses on preparing her students for the changing education field, and emphasizes the differences and similarities of students with and without learning disorders, such as the one her sister has.
“It’s a privilege to get to work with our students and get to know them,” Jackson said. “To be a support for them, to challenge them, to encourage them, to help them meet their goals and their dreams.”
Several students in her master’s program have gone on to earn their doctorate and are now teaching at institutions and helping to prepare teachers. Other former students are principals. Some work in central offices as curriculum specialists, and others have even been named teacher of the year.
“They come with the heart to want to make a difference with kids and we can teach them skills and strategies and ideas for working with kids,” Jackson said. “But it’s the heart that they bring into the classroom that we can’t teach.”