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School was a place of joy, refuge for Texas Teachers of the Year

AUSTIN – At a very young age, both Monica Washington and Jillian Howard found joy, hope and refuge in school. Today, they were both honored with the state’s top teaching award for providing their students with a passion for learning that extends beyond the schoolhouse doors.

Washington, who teaches 11th grade English at Texas High School in Texarkana Independent School District, was named the 2014 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. Washington will also represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

Howard, a third-grade bilingual teacher at C.D. Landolt Elementary School in Clear Creek ISD, was named the 2014 Elementary Teacher of the Year. Washington and Howard learned of their top honor at a special ceremony and luncheon at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, sponsored by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA). Each will receive a cash award, a commemorative trophy and other prizes.

In addition to the state's top two educators, the 34 Regional Teachers of the Year, along with the other four state finalists–Connie Bagley, San Marcos CISD; Julie Woodard, Rockwall ISD; Carlos Briano, Socorro ISD; and Christian DeBerry, Northside ISD–were also honored.

"These amazing teachers are an inspiration to us all and shine a light on the thousands of teachers who are dedicated to constantly improving their craft," said Johnny Veselka, Executive Director of TASA. "I congratulate Monica and Jillian for positively impacting not only the lives of the students they teach, but also their colleagues and communities."

In their Teacher of the Year applications, each educator offered insight into their teaching backgrounds, philosophy and style.

Monica Washington
A high school English language arts teacher in Texarkana ISD, Washington writes: “Accomplishments in education can never be considered accomplishments if they aren’t rooted in the success of others. What I think are my most significant contributions and accomplishments in education, however, are those things that will probably never make it to my resume. I feel accomplished when I help a student realize how talented and intelligent he is. When he recognizes his own power, I feel accomplished. I feel accomplished when I help a student realize that college is attainable and that it needs him there. I feel accomplished when I can inspire a colleague to be positive or creative or to just live to teach another day.” 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."

Jillian Howard
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. And right when I was ready to give up on life, Mrs. Coleman encouraged me, insisting I was too gifted to quit. She was a mother to me when my own mother could not be.” With the support of her teacher, Howard went on to attend Tulane University where she began working in a mentoring program and met Miles Austin, a 14-year-old boy who aspired to be an offensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints. Miles, however, could not read. “I wanted to help him, but I had little training. I sought help from Miles’ teachers, principal, and his mother– with little success. School was supposed to be a refuge for children to feel safe, to be successful and develop a love of learning, as it had been for me. I knew then that I had to be a refuge for Miles. It was during this time when I began to hear the soft voice calling me to teach. I teach now with a burning conviction to recreate the refuge that school had been for me.”
Each year, two teachers from each of the 20 regional Education Service Centers become eligible for two titles, Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. To achieve recognition, a teacher must first be chosen as a campus and a district Teacher of the Year, and ultimately a regional honoree. From this group of 40 regional teachers, six finalists are chosen and are interviewed by an independent panel of judges. The state's top elementary and secondary teachers are selected from these six outstanding finalists.

The Texas Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by TASA, with financial support and in-kind contributions from the following:

Platinum Sponsors

  • TASA
  • K-12 Insight

Gold Sponsors

  • H-E-B
  • Reasoning Mind
  • Scholastic
  • SMART Technologies
  • TASA on iTunes U

Professional Association Sponsors

  • Association of Texas Professional Educators
  • Texas American Federation of Teachers
  • Texas Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development
  • Texas Association of School Boards
  • Texas Association of School Business Officials
  • Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators
  • Texas Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Texas Classroom Teachers Association
  • Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers
  • Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association
  • Texas Retired Teachers Association
  • Texas School Public Relations Association
  • Texas State Teachers Association

Contact: Suzanne Marchman at 512-852-2127