In 1879 the Texas Legislature passed an act that established a school specifically designed to help “elevate the standard of education throughout the state.” It was known as the Sam Houston Normal Institute.
More than 130 years and a couple of name changes later, Sam Houston State University has blossomed into a juggernaut of higher learning by continuing to elevate those standards through its many nationally recognized programs. Now, recent graduate Amanda Schulte has raised those standards even higher after being named “Student Teacher of the Year.”
The award is given by the Texas Directors of Field Experience to a student teacher who demonstrates an outstanding ability to develop good classroom management skills and strategies that support the needs of all students and establishes effective interpersonal relationships among the students, parents, faculty and staff.
Nominees must submit an application containing a lesson plan that was taught during the student-teaching experience, a brief biography and a DVD of the nominee teaching in a classroom setting.
Several Bearkats were nominated for the award, and after a review by a panel of faculty members, Schulte was selected to be sent to the state committee.
“Amanda is an excellent representative of the best of SHSU student teachers,” director of educator preparation services Janet Williams said. “She stood out as a student teacher that incorporated elements of all these qualifiers in her lesson.”
Of the 25 finalists statewide, Schulte and two others were chosen to receive the prestigious award.
“I am really honored. This award proves that going the extra mile in the beginning can really pay off in the end,” Schulte said, who will be honored this October at the Consortium of State Organizations for Texas Teacher Education fall conference in San Antonio.
The news of her award came through an unexpected phone call while she was at lunch with one of her former teachers.
“It took a while to sink in,” she said. “I knew I had been nominated but I did not know I was a finalist for SHSU, so when I got the call saying I won, it was a lot more shocking.”
The Sugarland native got her first taste of teaching after receiving a teacher play set when she was in the first grade. She said she and her younger sister Kate would come home and play school for hours, even after being in school for the whole day.
“For a very long time she would be the student while I was the teacher,” Schulte said. “Then one day my sister wanted to be the teacher and I would not let her. She’s now an education major at SHSU, too.”
Growing up, Schulte began volunteering at her local church with various children activities such as bible drill and vacation bible school, but it wasn’t until high school when her youth group leadership team assisted on a field trip that she found her love for middle school kids.
Unlike elementary-aged children or teenagers in high school, middle school kids are right on the precipice of young adulthood, and it is during these pivotal years when a person really starts to figure out who they are, Schulte said.
“You can really help influence them in a positive way and be supportive, which I think is very important in middle school and different than in elementary or high school,” said Schulte, who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and a certification in fourth through eighth grade math and science.
She started student teaching during her last semester at SHSU at Fort Settlement Middle School,teaching seventh grade math before heading to Cheryl Braaten’s fourth grade science class at Brazos Bend Elementary School, both located in her hometown.
Schulte began each placement period by shadowing her mentor teacher in order to get a better feel for how the classroom ran, eventually leading into her teaching for a full day by herself.
“It was an absolute joy to have a well-trained student teacher. It was obvious to me that Amanda had already mastered classroom management skills, had been in several classrooms as an observer, knew the curriculum, and came prepared to teach,” Braaten said. “As an experienced teacher it is encouraging to see people like her enter our profession.”
After spending several weeks with each class, Schulte began seeing what the classroom was like from the other side of the desk instead of viewing it from a typical student’s point-of-view of books, tests, homework and projects.
She saw firsthand all of the hard work that goes into developing each and every lesson plan, test, and worksheet to make sure that they cover the required Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards.
“The first year takes a lot of concentration,” she said. “As the teacher you have to think more about the actual content that needs to be covered—not what the students are doing to learn the concepts.”
To her, figuring out who you are as a teacher and being able to align everything that needs to be taught to what the state says are two of the hardest obstacles teachers face theirfirst year in the classroom.
“You have a room full of 20 kids and they don’t necessarily do what the textbook says, so you’re thinking about the subject, the students, and it is such an intense time because you only have 40 minutes to an hour to teach these things to the kids,” Schulte said. “It takes creativity.”
Despite the long hours spent building lesson plans, forming tests and developing worksheets, Schulte was able to see the perks of all that dedication in the shape of a struggling student in her middle school math class.
By staying persistent and attentive, she was able to help the student stay on top of his work and at the end of the year achieve an 80 on the unit test.
She says growing up, she, herself, had difficulty learning how to read but her teachers never gave up on her and instilled that into her.
“It is a big deal that my students succeed,” Schulte said. “I had teachers who inspired me to never give up and who never gave up on me, and I started doing better.”
This fall, she is teaching sixth grade science at Rodger and Ellen Beck Junior High School in Katy, but she hopes to one day venture overseas to teach English as a second language.
“It would be a lot to change cultures and learn a new profession at the same time, so I want to get a couple of years under my belt first,” Schulte said.
No matter where she is, Schulte hopes to keep excelling as a teacher and to continue having a positive influence on kids, because “who they are at the beginning of the year is not who they are at the end,” she said.
“They are emerging, and as a teacher I want to be able to inspire other students to keep learning about the world around them and to reach their goals.”