Former head custodian becomes construction teacher in Keller ISDdfwnewsa | November 23, 2023 | 1 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News
Construction is Louis Vazquez’s passion.
He can build something up from the ground, laying the foundation. One day, you see a pile of dirt. Next thing, you see the building’s structure as the finished product.
Vazquez applies the same method to teaching. He follows all of his projects one-by-one, taking care of them — sometimes too passionately, according to his wife. All of his students at Keller Center for Advanced Learning are projects, and he’s building them into future construction industry workers, he said.
“I just go at it like that,” Vazquez said.
His passion to fulfill his job is there, whether as custodian for Keller ISD during the past three years, or now as a teacher.
Inside the shop on campus — where Vazquez shows his students how to frame a wall with a doorway, among other jobs — he meticulously measures his students’ work with a ruler, instructing them how to do it on their own. Sometimes, he checks in with his students individually to ensure they were all right.
Once he’s certain the class is in order, Vazquez finally is ready to talk about himself.
‘He’s showing up for those kids’
Vazquez grew up in New York with a single mother who was a teacher, he said.
While he didn’t intend on teaching, being around his mother inspired his willingness to teach others — from construction sites he had been in for a decade to the classrooms, he said. But the memory also leaves a toll on him whenever he sees his students struggling.
His mother had always been supportive of him, Vazquez said, but the family didn’t come from money. So, it taxes his mind whenever he sees one of his students clearly hungry or hears that they slept in a car because they are homeless.
Sometimes, he carries those stories home. Despite shorter work days, teaching can be more tiring than being a janitor, he said.
He wants to bridge that gap and help whenever he can, Vazquez said. These days, he stocks noodles, muffins or snacks in his classroom. He tells his students he’s there for them if they need anything.
He’s also dyslexic, and he isn’t afraid to show that struggle while teaching his students, he said.
“Anything like that that they don’t want to share with the rest of the class, all they need to do is come up to my desk,” he said.
Lindsey Rudnick, principal at Keller Center for Advanced Learning, said Vazquez’s heart has always been in the right place, whether as a custodian or teacher.
“He’s showing up for those kids,” Rudnick said.
‘This is my home’
A trip to Texas eight years ago impacted Vazquez, and his wife also noticed, he said. After his uncle, whose dream was to have all of his family members retire in Texas, died, Vazquez and his wife decided to move.
When he struggled to find a job after moving to Texas, Vazquez chose to become a custodian because the job was closer to his home.
But something changed on the first day he was given a tour at the Keller Center for Advanced Learning: He walked through the shop, and the tools came into view.
He knew during that moment he wanted to teach. He also understood that he didn’t go to college. However, the construction teaching position required a person with at least 10 years of work experience and a high school diploma. Vazquez checked the boxes.
“I was like, ‘This is my home.’ I want to be here every day,” he said.
Sophomore Tyler King signed up for the program because his mother is in construction. Vazquez is a good teacher because of his experience, Tyler said.
“He lets you know more about what you actually need to do and the information you take in rather than just watching him say something and doing it on a board,” Tyler said.
Vazquez was the right fit for the campus, Rudnick said. People want to be close to him, whether to learn or just to talk.
“Louis gets to live his story every day and tell kids, ‘You know, there’s no one right way to do things. There’s not a traditional route. You get to write the pages that you live,’” Rudnick said.
‘I could continue to do this for many years’
Under Vazquez, the program is more focused.
Previously, most of the curriculum centered on building furniture. Vazquez appreciated that. Some of the items in his classroom, like the table or the decorated boxes, came from that curriculum.
But he wanted students to learn how to build structures and be ready for a career in construction.
Vazquez is a jack-of-all-trades, Rudnick said. He’s turning the program into a place where students are ready for the construction industry. Students should know how to frame a house and learn wiring, do a little bit of roofing and a bit of masonry work.
“He just comes in with that vision and works collaboratively with the other teachers to start making it happen,” she said.
Vazquez wants his legacy to be based on students building structures they could feel proud about. Inside the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, his name is included in a book listing the people who worked on the new Freedom Tower. He wants the same for his students.
And that will all start from the ground up — in the shop at the back of the Keller Center for Advanced Learning.
Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.