This article appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

Twila Read with her York Pack, Delilah and Wrigley.

TCTA State President Twila Read is an advocate for students and educators. But she resisted the call to serve. 

Growing up in Dumas, Texas, Read’s parents were educators. Her mom taught prekindergarten and her dad was a teacher and coach before he transitioned into city management. “My maternal grandfather wanted to be a teacher, too,” she said. “He didn’t have the opportunity to attend college, so he was a hardworking farmer who made sure my mom and her sister went to college.” But Read had no intention of following in their footsteps.

“I never had any desire to teach when I was in school,” she said. “In fact, I was insulted when someone would tell me I would be a great teacher.” But she changed her mind in college and spent 17 years teaching middle school social studies and English in Grand Prairie ISD before finding her calling as a school guidance counselor. She spent four years as a counselor at Truman Middle School, then moved to Grand Prairie High School two years ago.

Read likes being a school counselor because no two days are ever the same. She helps students navigate conflicts with other students and at home, audits transcripts to ensure students are on track to graduate, completes risk assessments on students who threaten self-harm and advocates for students when they’re failing classes and need someone on their side.

The responsibility of supporting students is why she comes to work each day. “One day in February, I really struggled getting ready for work, and several times I decided I was not going and I went to my laptop to enter my absence,” Read recalled. “However, every time something told me, ‘No, you are going to school.’ I eventually made my drive to work and while walking into the building, I ran into one of our functional skills students having a bit of a meltdown. His eyes lit up when he saw me, and he demanded a hug. After he got his hug, he was able to make it to class. That’s why I get up every day and go to school. My students need me in their corner regardless of the situation.”

Knowing students need her inspires Read to always listen to what students say. “Right or wrong, students just want someone to listen to what they have to say. (Listening) helps me create trust with the student as I try to help them with whatever the issue is.”

Her skills as a guidance counselor also help her as an advocate for her peers. “Advocating for teachers is my passion,” she said. “I will never forget how my first visit to the Capitol made me feel and how much I enjoyed representing Texas educators.” 

That experience led her to seek a leadership position with TCTA. After being invited to join by a co-worker, Read served on TCTA’s Directors’ Council and Executive Board before running for state president. She also has served Grand Prairie CTA in several leadership roles, including local president. 

In the year ahead as state president, Read said she is “excited and determined to be the best I can be and help our organization grow.” She knows navigating COVID-19 will be an ongoing challenge, but she’s ready to find new ways to reach out to members and prospective members to continue advocating on their behalf. 

“Teachers are already feeling the pressure to ‘close the gaps’ without knowing how the school year will look,” she said. “Will we have a traditional start to school? Superintendents from larger districts have discussed the idea of hybrid scheduling where students come to school Monday and Wednesday but are at home Tuesday and Thursday. We also need to understand that some of our students do not have an ideal learning environment at their home and figure out how we can better help them.”

She’s also concerned about educator salaries and the rising costs of health insurance, so she’ll continue to work with TCTA’s lobby team to advocate for better benefits. Her efforts already paid off in Grand Prairie ISD. Last year, she initiated a grievance regarding the pay raise received by eligible employees in her district under House Bill 3. With the help of TCTA’s legal staff, the grievance was successful — resulting in an additional $900 pay raise for each eligible employee in the district. “TCTA does more for teachers than the other teacher organizations combined,” Read said.

When she’s not advocating for students or educators, Read is likely spending time with her “York Pack.” Delilah, who just turned 11, and Wrigley, 9, are spoiled rotten, she says. The dogs have been her constant companions while working from home this spring. “They have made some appearances in Zoom and Google Meet virtual meetings by barking at the yard guys, snoring during their numerous naps or popping up on screen because they needed to remind me that my attention should be on them.” 

COVID-19 disrupted one of Read’s traditions — traveling to watch the Chicago Cubs play baseball. A die-hard fan, Read travels each year to games, either at Wrigley Field or on road trips. She hopes to eventually visit all the Major League Baseball stadiums.

“Unfortunately, I had to postpone a Europe trip this summer where I would have seen the Cubs play in London and then traveled by train to Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon. We are hoping to go during spring break or summer 2021.”

She’s also traveled with students. While teaching middle school, she would take eighth graders on trips to Washington, D.C. “Since moving to high school, I miss that, and am considering starting up a trip,” she said.

Read knows this year may be one of the most challenging that teachers and students have experienced. As a counselor, she is well-positioned to help her students through the school year, and as TCTA state president, she will be a strong leader in representing and advocating for educators in the coming months and through the 2021 legislative session.