In 1993, when her students at Corrigan High School were lacking motivation, Diana Austin issued a challenge.
If every student could pass the state English exam, she’d spend 24 hours on top on the school building. She taught every junior in the school, but the odds were not in her favor considering the test was given in October.
Her only caveats were if it was lightning or a tornado in the forecast she wouldn’t do it. All other weather was fair game.
“They’d be writing and saying ‘It’ll be snowing! It’ll be sleeting! You’ll be sweating!’” she said. “They would write, oh my goodness, they would write. They would write like there was no tomorrow.”
The students took the test in October and in December the principal called Austin into his office.
“What have I done?” she asked him.
“Look at these test scores,” he said gruffly. “Ninety-seven percent.”
Only two students hadn’t passed the test. It wasn't 100 percent, so Austin modified her original plan and agreed to stay on the roof of the school for an entire school day instead.
On a chilly Feb. 14, 1994, the entire school came outside for a convocation. They said the Pledge of Allegiance and Austin got in a cherry-picker truck that plucked her down on the roof.
“We had a basket with a rope that they sent my lunch up in,” Austin said. “I had a microphone. I had tables and chairs on the ground for the students to do their tasks and group work. I taught from the roof.”
A parent helped keep order, the radio station came out to report the event and people driving by on Highway 59 honked as they passed.
The next year the state moved the English test to sophomore year, while Austin stuck with her juniors. That year the pass rate was only in the mid-70s. So Austin was moved to teach sophomore English. The next year the passing rate rose to 98 percent.
Austin began student teaching in 1970.
She has taught middle school, high school and college level courses.
Her class loads have included history, civics, home economics, reading, computer literacy and all levels of English.
She’s sponsored newspaper, cheer, pep squad, theater and academic decathlon.
She’s been an assistant principal and also professional development specialist.
Her first teaching job was at a small private school in Louisiana and as the Christmas break came to a close, the director told her there wasn’t any money to pay her anymore.
“They gave me the choice to quit right then or all of the other teachers could donate $50 of their paychecks to pay my salary,” Austin said. “They voted to donate to me.”
Three months later the entire teaching staff learned that there wasn’t money to pay them until May 31. They could quit in March or work without pay until May 31. They all decided to stick it out. They also never got paid.
Austin met her husband Bruce at Sunday School. They will celebrate 40 years of marriage this year. Their first date was to see a theatre performance of “The King and I.”
“Our first date was Sept. 9, we were engaged on Oct. 23 and married on Dec. 18,” Austin said.
Dr. Bruce Austin is the pastor of Community North Baptist Church in McKinney and Diana still teaches Sunday school. She’s taught the Bible straight through three times and will begin a fourth time this fall.
In her spare time, Diana has been an award-winning columnist for the Dallas Morning News. She enjoys walking, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle and loving her grandbabies -- an eighth is due in October.
Diana joined Allen High School in 2005 and still has the same wish for her students that she had when she first started teaching.
“I want them to realize I love them and want the best for them,” she said. “There is someone in this room who cares.”
Favorite thing about teaching: Interaction with students
Place she wants to visit: England
Favorite book to teach: To Kill a Mockingbird
Favorite author to read: Anything by Pat Conroy