Breaking the Language Barrier with 6th-grade Teacher Anna Gregory
Texas header Anna Gregory connects with her 6th-grade students over horses when language barriers exist.

Anna Gregory thinks she’ll be a 6-grade teacher in Amarillo, Texas, for the rest of her career, but it’s not where she started.

“Teaching is my second degree,” Gregory said. “My first degree was in ag business, but I didn’t like the world of medicine sales, which is what I was doing. I went back to school, got my teaching certificate, and math had lots of openings, so I became a math teacher.”

Gregory, a 5 header, grew up ranching and roping in southern Colorado and finds teaching to be a perfect way to accommodate her roping schedule. Conversely, roping on the daily helps Gregory keep her mind fresh for the classroom, which presents her with some terrifically unique challenges.

[READ MORE: Gregory Banks $4,440 at USTRC’s Southern Colorado Classic]

“I teach on a 6-grade-only campus. There are about 386 students speaking 21 different languages on the campus.”

As Gregory explained, Texas—and Amarillo, in particular—has become one of the largest refugee populations in the United States. In 2018, in fact, Texas resettled more refugees than any other state.

Gregory appears to thrive among the diversity her students bring to the classroom, but has no shortage of interesting tales thanks to the complete culture shock endured by her kids, who come from all over the world.

“There’s never a dull moment,” stated Gregory, who has just finished her 14 year of teaching. “It’s gotten better in the past couple years, but some apartment complexes were built for these families and they’ve taken the toilets and the carpets out and brought in wheelbarrows full of dirt. We have to teach them to use indoor plumbing. It’s an eye-opening experience.”

In addition to establishing basic living habits, language is the next giant hurdle Gregory and her coworkers must tackle.

“You really have to work on a lot of vocabulary and a lot of manners and how to just be polite and engaged with other people. Several years ago, I had a boy in my class who was fresh from the Congo and he did not know any English. All he knew how to do was cluck, which was his dialogue in his camp with his tribe.”

Understandably, Gregory is constantly striving to come up with creative and innovative ways to teach her kids fractions and other 6-grade level math functions. Luckily for her, perhaps though, her horses often serve as the perfect touchpoint to connect with her kids.

“When they find out I have horses, they will follow me around and do whatever I ask. Yes ma’am, no ma’am, and you can just see them light up because they’ve never had a teacher that’s had horses. I get those kids on my side pretty fast and, once I get those, I can get other kids as well. They’re very intrigued. They all think I’m rich because I have horses and have cows. That’s a pretty big deal to them. They think that’s pretty cool.”

Gregory doesn’t consider herself rich, but she has won some big ropings, including the 2012 WSTR Finale #11, which earned her a cool $109,500, when she and partner Jamie Pohnert roped four in 34.17 seconds.

“2012 was a big win. That was a life-changing win.”

Though Gregory has had some finale successes since 2012, she’s ready for another win.

So far, Gregory has spent the lion’s share of this year recovering from shoulder surgery, and, though she’d been roping with her husband, John, in the home arena, she was just getting entered up again in June.

“Not being able to ride a horse drove me nuts. I did not take that very well. [Recovery] is a long process. I didn’t read the fine print. They said in 90 days I’d be back to roping and well, I’m roping, just not very good yet.”

And while it remains to be seen which goals Gregory will accomplish in the arena this year, there’s no question what she’s accomplished in her classroom.

“Sometimes you don’t know the connections you’ve made,” she said. “A young man who was graduating this year—he was a senior—was escorted to my classroom. I didn’t recognize him—they change so much between 6 and 12 grade. He handed me a note and I said, ‘Thank you.’ And he said, ‘No, thank you. You don’t know what you did for me.’”

He wrote:

Mrs. Gregory,

I’ve come a long way since the last time I saw you Mrs. Gregory, but I still fondly remember your class. You are one of the best math teachers I have ever had. You made math seem simple and as we all know math’s extremely complex. Thank you for always helping me when I struggled with something. Thank you for preparing me for the advanced math classes I would take in the future. It was an honor and a privilege to have you as my math teacher. I would not be in the position I am right now without your advice and your help. Thank you for being a magnificent teacher.

“Why do I stick out in his mind?” Gregory asked. “Your kids always leave you little notes and whatnot, but not six years later. Now, he’s a senior—National Honor Society. Physical therapy and psychology are going to be his majors. Holy cow. You just never know.”

Then, a few days later, Gregory discovered that her school’s students had ranked 3 in the district for the year.

“This testifies to how hard our 6 graders work. They scored in the top three 6-grade classes on all the tests they took this year in our district. That’s outscoring several of the affluent campuses that are on the southwest side of Amarillo. We have a lot of diversity and we have a lot of struggles, but [our] kids fight pretty hard for it.”

They must get their inspiration from their teacher.

“I’m trying to figure out all my partners for Vegas and I’m chomping at the bit to get some qualifications. I’m behind the times and I want to make sure I have my runs for out there. I’m after another [win]. You better believe it. I’ve made the short round a couple of times and we’ve won some consolation checks here and there, but nothing that big. That’s the goal. I’m ready.”

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