Dr. Tera Torres Is a Maverick Who Does Not Stop
Profile of a UST Faculty Member
“I need a lot of things going on.”
Dr. Tera Torres is not kidding. The remarkable Chair of the Pragmatic Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas-Houston’s Kolbe School does not stop. Torres is all in for her full-time job at UST leading an associate degree program for students with learning differences. She runs a half-marathon every month. And believe it or not—this wife and mother to four teaches 18 exercise classes a week at the Pearland Y and other area gyms.
“I’ve been an exercise junkie since junior high,” she said. “That explains why I was 10 days postpartum with my fourth baby when I decided I was recovered enough and started running again. After a scolding from my doctor, I learned it was too soon, but normally, exercise feels good to me. I don’t win races. It just feels good.”
The vegan professor burns on four to five hours of sleep. She quiets her zooming mind when her Brooks running shoes are pounding the track.
“It’s getting outdoors and getting out of my head and having nowhere to be that’s therapeutic to me,” Torres said.
A Life-Changing College Experience
Her fascination with learning took her all over the choice map in college. She was like the proverbial kid in a candy store.
“In college, I loved every class and majored in everything 27 times before I settled on sociology,” she recalled. “One thing I can tell you is I never intended to be an educator. It was never in my plan.”
But she discovered a keen and growing interest in young people with learning differences as she worked her way through a B.A., M.Ed. and Ed.D. Her jobs and academics fed one another. At one point, she was employed in a residential treatment center for boys who were court-ordered to be there. Then, she studied juvenile delinquency ideas and theories about impact and recidivism.
Later, teaching middle and high school special education, she realized she had a gift for meeting kids where they were and taking them where they could go. Because of those successful experiences with students, Torres began to question what a learning disability was.
“It sounded like a lot of hokey” she recalled. “And that began my journey to graduate school. I wanted to know why we’re calling kids learning disabled. What did that mean?”
A Dragon Slayer Who Created a Remarkable Program
Ultimately, her doctoral research in learning disabilities led her to a controversial conclusion.
“My conclusion was that a learning disability is a socially constructed means of excusing us from teaching kids. We just pass them on to other teachers. Yes, some kids learn differently. There are kids who struggle to read. Kids who struggle with math and writing and all kinds of things. Instead of calling that a disability, maybe we need to change our teaching or change what we’re presenting.”
Once the maverick educator had formed her conclusion, there was no stopping her.
“I’ve always been a dragon slayer type when confronted with a problem to solve, especially when it involves taking care of people who cannot take care of themselves.”
The problem this high-energy crusader aimed to correct was that kids with learning disabilities had nowhere to go after high school. So, while she was already teaching UST’s diagnostician curriculum to graduate students full time, she wrote an innovative associate degree in Pragmatic Studies “for fun.” Five years later, the program launched, and the first cohort is set to graduate in May 2023.
Fostering a Trailblazing Philosophy
Torres’ admirable actions to “see a need, fill a need” reflect the influencers in her life. She points out that UST’s President Richard Ludwick has always encouraged new ideas. And her priest taught her that “God calls us to be creators.”
“So, we’re supposed to create things. Where we work, there should be fruits. I want my own kids to be change agents in the world to care for people who can’t take care of themselves.”
More to Come
Still going at a 90-to-nothing pace, Torres talked about her latest plans.
“My current new project is trying to get a B.A. program for pragmatic studies students. And the other thing is I think I’m going to train for an Ironman Triathlon in December.”
Who out there needs a nap now?