Some 60 seniors from 31 HISD high schools on Tuesday pledged to become teachers and return to the district to teach in four years as part of the prestigious Teach Forward Houston program.
“I will commit to my studies at the University of Houston in order to enter my classroom with the foundational knowledge, skills, and mindsets necessary to maximize student achievement and character development,” they recited in unison at Teach Forward Houston’s inaugural signing day celebration on May 3 in the Hattie Mae White board auditorium.
“Becoming a role model starts right here, right now,” HISD Trustee Wanda Adams told the students. “I am charging you to maintain a good GPA, graduate in four years, and come back and be a role model to our students.”
It was partly because of their desire to give back to the HISD community that these students were selected for Teach Forward Houston. The district is supplementing their financial aid and scholarship packages to ensure that 100 percent of their tuition is paid over all four years.
“How many of you are the first in your family to go to college?” Interim Superintendent Kenneth Huewitt asked the students, and many raised their hands. “Congratulations – you broke the cycle. I broke the cycle as well. Our students need a teacher like you – one they can relate to. We are happy to know that our classrooms will be staffed with teachers who love their students.”
This is the first year of HISD’s “grow your own” teacher program. Prompted by a shortage of quality teachers across the country, HISD officials came up with the program in partnership with the University of Houston.
UH College of Education Dean Robert McPherson told the students that he had been living for this moment for two years. “You are entering one of the top five education programs in the country,” he said, “and we are going to be with you every step of the way. Just think, in four years you’ll be at Hofheinz Pavilion with a diploma in one hand and a job offer in the other.”
McPherson gave the students their first homework assignment – write a letter to their favorite teacher. “Tell them that you are going to be a teacher,” he said. “You will make their day.”
Two Teach Forward Houston students addressed the crowd as well. Austin High School senior Tierra Harris has lofty goals – along with teaching, she wants to start her own dance business. “I have faith that all my dreams will come true,” she said.
Laura Martinez from Westbury High School is grateful for the financial support. “I didn’t really have a plan, and this is a great opportunity,” she said. “I love kids.”
Chief Academic Officer Andrew Houlihan, the product of a similar program in North Carolina, closed out the celebration. “About 20 years ago, I was in your shoes,” he said. “Thanks to my scholarship, I became a teacher in North Carolina, and a principal in HISD before this. Remember, the teacher is the most important thing in making a difference in students’ lives, and you are going to make a tremendous difference.”
Other Teach Forward Houston students at the celebration talked about the teachers who inspired them to become teachers.
“Earlier this year, I was worried about my future,” said North Houston Early College senior Mark Mata. “My teacher noticed, pulled me aside, and had a heart-to-heart talk with me. That’s when I realized the impact a teacher can have on a student.”
Jordan High School senior Diana Chicas is going to be a teacher because of her Pre-K teacher at Isaacs Elementary School.
“I didn’t speak English, and on my first day I was terrified,” she said. “She helped me in so many ways. When I graduated from elementary school, she came to the ceremony and told me how much she was going to miss me.”