TCTA is proud to recognize these award-winning members

This article appeared in the Winter 2017-18 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

Following in her family’s footsteps

Katie Negen always wanted to be an educator like her mother and grandparents.

“I remember being so proud of my mother and always eagerly wanting to watch her grade papers, plan lessons and organize her classroom,” Negen said. “It is amazing to listen to my mother speak about the students she taught and has impacted over the years and ones that have come back to tell her, ‘thank you’.”

At her grandfather’s funeral in June, Negen sat next to her grandmother and listened to “story after story” of the different ways her grandfather touched their lives and made a difference. “I hope one day to have made a fraction of the impact these remarkable educators and family members of mine have made with so many,” she said.

Eleven years into her teaching career, Negen is off to a good start. She was recently awarded a 2017 Milken Educator Award. The national program run by the Milken Family Foundation “targets early-to-mid career educators for their achievements and for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future.” 

Negen has spent her entire career at Slaton Jr. High School in Slaton ISD, near Lubbock. Beginning as a seventh-grade writing teacher after graduating from Texas Tech University in 2007, Negen has spent the past three years as the master teacher at Slaton Jr. High. “I lead fellow teachers through the coaching process on ways to improve their classroom practices with weekly cluster meeting, planning sessions, evaluations, co-teaching, modeling and data analysis.”

Building relationships is her favorite part of the job. “I coach and lead them to discover practices they can use that have a profound impact on students and practices that they can improve upon that will further impact their students’ achievement.”

Despite the recognition she’s received, Negen’s success hasn’t come easily. “About three years into my career, I was really struggling with whether or not I wanted to continue teaching due to a lack of support from administration and collaboration as a staff of educators. This was something I craved as an educator. Every time I would discuss my concerns with my mother, she would remind me, ‘Teaching is a calling, and you have to decide if this is the profession for you and whether it feeds your soul.’ After deciding that the pros of teaching well outweighed the cons for me, I was blessed with a new set of administrators who believed nothing done well was ever achieved in isolation.”

At a faculty meeting in her sixth year of teaching, her principal, Jim Andrus, said, “Remember that you are a decisive factor in the classroom. You can either make or break a student; it’s up to you.” Negen embraced his advice. “It’s a motto I express and share with my teachers, as well. This is what makes my job as an educator so important. How I choose to use the tools and gifts I’ve been blessed with and learned in the classroom is 100 percent up to me.”

Having a growth mindset and being willing to try new things, even if she fails at them, helps Negen stay encouraged and focused on becoming a better teacher. She credits that mindset with her success, along with the support of “an amazing leadership team” that works with teachers to bring their many talents and expertise to the table and gives them a chance to learn from their mistakes.

That makes all the difference at a time when classroom teachers are faced with a lack of funding and government support. Negen says rural districts like Slaton often lose good teachers because the district can’t compete with higher salaries offered in larger districts. To push through, Negen chooses to focus on what she can accomplish and building a community of support with her fellow teachers. 

“Hard work and a growth mindset always pay off. Without them, you will never achieve your goals,” she said.

Learning to love the past

A love of history and a desire to help young people appreciate Texas’ rich past led Michael Bailey to the classroom 25 years ago. His ability to connect with students and an inventive way of bringing history to life led to Bailey’s recognition as a 2017 H-E-B Excellence in Education Award winner for Lifetime Achievement. 

“Building relationships with students as I take them on a journey through the past” is Bailey’s favorite part of his job as a Texas history teacher at Omar Bradley Middle School in North East ISD near San Antonio. 

When he began teaching, Bailey took the advice of Texas State University Regents Professor Byron Augustin who told him to “be myself in the classroom and students would follow me.”

That advice helps him connect with students and reminds him of why he teaches, especially when dealing with what he calls the biggest challenge facing teachers today: time management. “The state and most districts have put more work on teachers which is not related to actual teaching in the classroom,” he said.

Instead, Bailey focuses on his students and his passion for Texas history. That passion is poured into every item inside the Mill Springs Cabin, which he created on the middle school campus in 1999. With help from fellow teachers and local volunteers, Bailey reconstructed a 19th century Kentucky log cabin that is joined by a replica general store, schoolhouse and trading post. 

Bailey’s seventh-grade students learn to share his passion as they teach history to elementary school students who take field trips to campus to explore the cabin. “I brought history alive to a level that has never been reached.”

Award-winning TCTA members share the best advice they’ve received

AMY HOOTEN: 2018 Region 8 Elementary Teacher of the Year and State Finalist

Current job: Second-grade English language arts and reading teacher, Thomas Justiss Elementary, Paris ISD

Number of years in education: 24

The best advice about teaching was not given to me in a verbal or written communication, but was modeled to me in actions. Adrian Casey was the most incredible third-grade teacher ever. She is the reason I chose teaching as a profession. I was a scared, shy student who moved from Minnesota to Texas in the third grade, and found out quickly I was behind in Texas curriculum. She didn’t let me fall further into the gaps of my education. Mrs. Casey demonstrated what I hold in my heart and carry into my classroom these past 24 years of teaching. It was the power of the relationship that she formed with me filled with kindness, patience and guidance. This relationship made me feel important and gave me the confidence that I needed to do my best and catch up to my other peers. I have been modeling this same approach to student teachers whom I have mentored. Building relationships is the key advice I would pass along to anyone in the profession.

NATASHIA FOGLESONG: 2018 Region 6 Elementary Teacher of the Year

Current job: Fifth-grade math and science teacher, Willie Williams Elementary, Magnolia ISD

Number of years in education: 6

The best piece of advice I received was from my mentor teacher my first year of teaching. I was really struggling with behavior and under the misconception that having my content prepared was the most important thing. This amazing teacher showed me that the students needed a connection before content would matter. The most important concern was the relationship I had with them. Once the relationship was there, the content would fall into place. This was a tough lesson to learn, but I finally let myself go and let the students see all of me. I realized that they loved my imperfections and it helped us connect. Now, my students all know all of my failures and my mistakes and about the goals I have met in spite of them. I share every bit of myself and have made connections that far outlast the year I have with them. Learn from my mistake – content will come, but relationships are the key to unlocking a child and having them be open to learning with you.

LESLIE ANAYA: 2018 Region 15 Elementary Teacher of the Year

Current job: Sixth-grade math teacher, Coggin-Intermediate School, Brownwood ISD

Number of years in education: 6

The best advice I’ve been given came from my first principal Tim Hise in Dallas ISD. He taught me that we cannot control the circumstances our students come from, present learning gaps, previous educational experiences or motivation levels. However, we can control the culture we create in our classrooms and “salt their oats.” Mr. Hise taught me to make them thirsty for knowledge. Another piece of invaluable advice I received from my mentor Tamara Johnson: “Assume positive intent and when it gets tough, always go back to your passion that inspired you to become a teacher.”

RACHEL WHEELER: 2018 Region 17 Secondary Teacher of the Year

Current job: Eighth-grade math teacher, Brownfield Middle School, Brownfield ISD

Number of years in education: 10

The best advice that was given to me about teaching came from my parents, Tom and Ann Ferguson, who were both educators (now retired). “Be an innovative teacher who is adaptive and willing to try new strategies; don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and always be open to new ideas.” I would challenge ALL teachers to follow this advice when preparing and presenting lessons to keep learning fun and engaging for all ages. Be lifelong learners since that’s what we expect of our students. Be the teacher who is involved in your students’ learning; they like to know you believe in them and care about them as individuals. Be the teacher who you would have enjoyed having as a teacher when you were a student. Show students that you take pleasure in teaching; give it 110 percent every day. Be a positive influence on everyone you encounter and truly show that you care; build relationships. Find inspiration to making teaching and learning fun; make a difference in every child. And finally, get organized and be open-minded; you know change is coming so embrace it!