Six exceptional educators named finalists for Teacher of the Year
AUSTIN – Six exceptional educators from across Texas have been chosen as finalists in the Texas Teacher of the Year program, the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) announced today.
Three elementary and three secondary school educators were selected from the 40 regional Teachers of the Year from each of the state’s 20 education service centers. The finalists will now vie for the honor of being named Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year.
The elementary school finalists are:
- Connie Bagley, a dyslexia specialist at Crockett Elementary in San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District;
- Jillian Howard, a bilingual teacher at C.D. Landolt Elementary in Clear Creek ISD;
- Julie Woodard, a 6th grade social studies teacher at D.S. Pullen Elementary in Rockwall ISD.
The secondary education finalists are:
- Carlos Briano, a journalism teacher at El Dorado High School in Socorro ISD;
- Christian DeBerry, special education teacher at William P. Hobby Middle School in
- Monica Washington, an English teacher at Texas High School in Texarkana ISD.
"These phenomenal educators symbolize the thousands of teachers across the state who are committed to making a difference in children's lives," said Johnny Veselka, Executive Director of TASA. "I congratulate the six finalists who diligently work to ensure their students not only master the academic content, but also are prepared to face the future with perseverance, integrity and a love of learning."
In their Teacher of the Year applications, each educator offered insight into their teaching backgrounds, philosophy and style.
Bagley, a dyslexia specialist in San Marcos ISD who is a 40-year teaching veteran, writes: "I was inspired to teach at an early age. My dad was being transferred and we were moving. It was a traumatic event for a 6-year-old. My class was taking a field trip to the San Antonio zoo soon and I would miss it. I remember how sweet my teacher was and how she promised to take pictures for me. She did that and more. My classmates wrote me stories of their trip and drew me pictures. This teacher's extra effort planted the seed growing in me that I would someday grow into a teacher that made a difference in a child’s life. Even the smallest of gestures can have an impact on a child."
An elementary bilingual teacher at Clear Creek ISD, Howard writes: "Growing up, school was my only refuge. As the daughter of a fourteen-year-old single mom, I was forced to become an adult at a very early age. I worried about being alone, about the gunshots that rang through the night, and about the Lord protecting me. But school was different; it was the place where I could be a kid. If I was lonely at home, at school there was companionship. If I was in fear at home, I felt safe at school. If I didn't get a meal at home, I could eat at school. If at home things seemed hopeless, at school therein lay hope for the future. School gave me a sense of empowerment in a life where I felt powerless. I teach now with a burning conviction to recreate the refuge that school had been for me."
Woodard, a sixth-grade social studies teacher in Rockwall ISD, writes: "Fourteen years after starting this gig called 'teaching,' I'm still painting the playground, glazing hand-made globes, and in general making ginormous classroom messes. My students walk into class saying, ‘Oooh, what a mess! We must be learning a lot today!' I hope my contribution has been providing a healthy, safe, engaging, supportive and challenging environment for my students. I hope I've inspired a love of learning and a passion for excellence. I believe my accomplishments are my students; well-prepared, supported, encouraged, confident, life-long learners that are ready to face their future with problem solving tools that come from hands-on learning and understanding by doing."
As the El Paso Times editor of a weekly bilingual publication, Briano was lured into the teaching profession after recruiting local high school students to write for the paper. In his application he wrote: "I was awestruck with the amazing stories I was reading: students at Socorro High building a cabin from top to bottom and selling it for profit, Escontrias Elementary raising money for a neighborhood resident who had a stroke, an Americas High student winning the International Science Fair. I didn't know it at the time, but all that experience writing, editing, photographing, preparing layouts, recruiting staff, organizing budgets, selling advertising, creating marketing and public relation campaigns would one day help me in my journalism teacher career. I was a journalist training to become a journalism teacher."
A special education teacher in Northside ISD, DeBerry said that her plans to start her own business and get rich changed the day she met Fiona, a little girl with Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Taking a job as a nanny to help pay for college, DeBerry had no experience working with special needs children, but after caring for Fiona, working with special needs students became her calling. "I remember the great feeling I had the first day I stepped into my new classroom, but I was soon caught up in what felt like a whirlwind. Each student had their own unique challenges." But what mattered most, she wrote, was the unconditional love and acceptance of her students. "Even though I found it quite by accident, I know my path is now running straight and true," DeBerry said.
An English language arts teacher in Texarkana ISD, Washington writes: "They told me not to teach. They were teachers and others who had my best interest at heart. Had I listened to people who meant me well but failed to understand my gravitational-like pull to inspire learning in others, I would not have had the experiences and accomplishments I have had thus far." In a speech to thousands of educators at a convention, Washington encouraged those teachers to go back to their districts and "pack some suitcases," a metaphor for providing all the necessary tools students need to become successful citizens. "Those tools could be tough love, extra tutoring, an ear, anything that the student needed. People walk each day carrying their suitcases filled to varying levels. My most significant accomplishment is dropping something useful into their suitcase. This is what those who persuaded me to pursue a different career didn't realize: I am and always will be a suitcase packer," she wrote.
The six finalists were selected by a panel of judges that included representatives of the state's four teacher organizations and last year's Teacher of the Year finalists. Each of the finalists will now be invited to Austin for interviews on Sept. 7 before a larger judging panel, which will determine the top elementary and secondary teacher. One of the top winners will also be selected as Texas' representative in the National Teacher of the Year program.
The Texas Elementary and Secondary Teacher of the Year, as well as all of the Regional Teachers of the Year will be honored at a luncheon and awards ceremony on Oct. 4 at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.