Jan Barker, an uncommon history
Never in her wildest dreams did Jan Barker think she would return to Holy Family Catholic School after completing first through eighth grade there.
But now she teaches at the Fort Worth School — for 29 years and counting.
“It was never my plan, but it was the best plan — God’s plan. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I hope to retire from here,” she said.
She attended the Catholic school along with her sister and brother. After high school, she majored in physical education and minored in history at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), planning to be an aquatics director at the YMCA. After a December graduation, she agreed to substitute teach for six weeks at Holy Family for a sixth-grade teacher who had a new baby.
The new mother opted not to return, but Barker did, despite having to review the next day’s math and English material each night before she taught the subjects. “It was feet to the fire,” she recalled.
In the years since, she’s taught grades 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 at the Fort Worth school, along with physical education and a host of special projects. She’s also taught her daughter, niece, and nephew, all of whom attended Holy Family.
One thing that Barker loves about the school is the sense of family. “We’re a family here. That’s who we are. We look after each other,” she said, especially in difficult times. In 2012, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and her father died within a few months.
Barker remembers parents handing her a meal through the car window as she helped with the carpool line. “It’s just amazing. People look after you. And your prayers change from ‘How am I going to make this work?’ to ’Thank you.’”
When her daughter was diagnosed as nearly blind in second grade, her school family came through with care and commitment. The principal and teachers showed kindness and determination to accommodate her daughter’s learning differences, helping meet each challenge as it came. Her daughter’s fourth-grade teacher became a licensed educational therapist and a long-term education advocate for her daughter and others.
In addition to its sense of family, the second thing Barker loves about the school is its Catholic identity. No matter what she has taught, she incorporates God. She currently teaches history to grades 5 through 8, and PE to various grades, working faith into the lessons.
Even PE? Yes.
“What would Jesus do? Would Jesus push him off the scooter?” Barker said with a laugh. In her viewpoint, much of physical education is learning to get along with others and follow God’s rules.
According to Principal Ann Walters, Barker makes history come alive. Her secret is “if you tell it like a good tale, you’ve got ‘em.” The educator infuses creativity into history, assigning students projects such as building a life-sized sarcophagus lid or the Alamo mission. No boring worksheets here.
History is so intertwined with the Church that Barker can’t imagine teaching in a public school. She said, “Catholic education is in my blood. I don’t know how to teach history without Catholicism, how to not rely on faith.”
She hopes to instill an appreciation of history in her students, but even more she wants her students to grow into good, faithful people who “try to be a light, no matter where they go.”