Doris Slay-Barber spent decades working in the San Antonio school system, building a legacy (and some software) that will last for decades to come.
Known around town for wearing fabulous fascinators (scroll for some examples!) wherever she goes, this recent San Antonio Hall of Fame inductee and Senior Planet member is a fierce advocate for the power of technology and education. When Doris and I spoke earlier this month she was just finishing up participating in our “Money Matters” course online, hoping to pick up some tips for her most recent work venture.
Can we start by talking about your background in education?
Yes! I was in education for 41 years. I always wanted to be a teacher and I suppose I always have been one. I grew up in a rural area, the oldest of six kids. My parents were busy on the farm so I took it upon myself to help my younger siblings learn.
In high school, I was president of the student/teacher association: Future Teachers. The elementary school principal next door made a deal with my high school principal because a lot of his teachers were pregnant. They decided that the Future Teachers would go cover when the elementary teachers went to doctors appointments. I ended up missing so much of my typing class to substitute teach that I wound up with the only B of my high school career in that class.
This led to a $30 scholarship to register for two classes at the local community college. My dad didn’t believe in girls going to college, so that money gave me the opportunity to do something with my life. After teaching for eight years and then working in curriculum development, I moved on to working at the education training center.
What was your experience like at the training center?
I always had a fascination with computers. While getting my masters I scraped enough money together to buy a Commodore 64. Meanwhile my boss at the time told me: “Personal computers will never stick around.”
I was sent over to the side of the training center where they were developing software. I needed to make and sell software that posted grades, transcripts and attendance successfully to schools in our district in 18 months or else I would be sent back to the “crayola” part of the center, developing curriculum.
How did the software you developed change things for schools in Texas?
Taking attendance in Texas is vital because funding is based on how many days kids are at school. All attendance before was done by hand so doing it with a computer speeds everything up with less errors. Eventually the Education Department mandated that every school track attendance with software. That software I developed is still used in many of those same schools.
I learned that in developing software, you have to look at the realities of how an organization functions. Change is hard for pretty much everyone. So you have to devote time not only developing and testing it, but also training people how to use it.
And now you have a totally different type of business?
I own a small business center out in a rural community. My goal is to provide a space for small businesses to provide essential services in the rural community. I have nothing against franchises, but I would prefer to support local businesses.
Did you think you’d even own a business center?
No! My background is in education- that is how I like to help people. But it does fit with a lot of what I enjoy- it’s a different format for helping people.
How do you think being open to new technology has affected your life?
Even today I try to stay current. I try to look at many different ways of doing things. For instance, I just finished a two year term as president of Texas Business Women and while there I introduced new technology to the organization like using video conferencing.
Now that COVID-19 has hit, everyone asks me, how did you know this was the way we were going? And I say “I didn’t know!” I guess I’ve never been afraid to try new things.
Why are you such a big advocate for older adults using technology?
Technology is especially important right now for older adults because of isolation. Sure there are things you can’t do, you can’t get a haircut, but there are a lot of things you can do. I constantly encourage people to trust the technology but with a questioning eye. Video conferencing may not replace a face to face lunch but it allows you to do business and move forward. You can only postpone board meetings for so long.
And it’s especially important in rural areas.
Yes! It helps you stay connected, feel less alone especially for people in rural communities, where I’m from. Telemedicine has been eye opening for people here.
Sounds like even though you left education, you haven’t stopped teaching.
The day I’m not teaching is the day I’ll have lilies on my chest! I will always promote education in so many different formats.
What do you enjoy most about being a member of Senior Planet?
Taking Senior Planet class online has meant having the ability to meet instructors and students from all of the United States. It shows people that they can still travel without leaving their home. It’s also a pleasure getting to see the variety of presentation styles from the different trainers. Male, female, old, young- each instructor brings their own personality and that brings comfort to individuals. But there is a standard of quality.
What does aging with attitude mean to you?
Not having a fear or a dread of change and the future. Having an attitude that says “I can do it. I’m going to try new things. The only way I’m going to stay current is by trying new things.” Don’t be afraid of what’s next.
Plus, here is San Antonio, I’m most known for wearing my hats and fascinators. I say I don’t only have attitude, I have hat-titude! You can’t hide in a crowd when you’re wearing a fascinator.