Ms. Erika Houston, an English teacher from Baltimore, was connected to her current school by the matchmakers at OneTeacher early in 2017. Now in her fifth year of teaching and second at Western School of Science and Technology: A Challenge Foundation Academy (WSST: CFA), Ms. Houston continues to make a path-changing impact on her 8th grade English and high school AP English students. She recently spoke with the OneTeacher team to share her experiences and the things she loves most about her school and students.
What drew you to the teaching profession?
I wanted to do something where I could help people. I really like working with teenagers and middle school age kids. They’re so curious about the world! I like seeing them learn from their mistakes and improve over time as they get older. English has always been my favorite subject, and I wanted to be able to encourage a love of reading in the students that I teach.
Why have you chosen to teach in a Title I school?
All kids deserve opportunities in life. They shouldn’t feel like they’re stuck because they grow up in a certain area. At WSST: CFA, we take pride in being the best school in this area. Kids are proud of that too–they’re proud they have the help they need to reach their goals.
What do you love most about WSST: CFA?
WSST: CFA is very driven by one goal, and all of our students and teachers are on the same page about what our purpose is: making sure all students are prepared for college and careers. This makes WSST: CFA unique because all students have similar goals, and they can help each other be successful in their classes. We also have STEM and project-based learning opportunities for them that bring relevance and real-life practice to what they’re learning. Our academics are rigorous and students have to pass with a 70%; this is great because they can’t just accept a low grade, they need to keep pushing themselves to do the best they can.
What challenges and strengths do you see in your students? How does WSST: CFA help them overcome these challenges?
I have a lot of students who are English Language Learners. Many struggle with reading comprehension, as they are just becoming familiar with the English language. Teachers work together to ensure students have the support they need. We’ll change their schedule and communicate with one another to provide extra practice so they have the same access to opportunities as students who are more comfortable with English. We do lots of data tracking to see students’ growth over time, and the data also helps us individualize their education.
My students are so resourceful–they really take charge of their own learning. They know what resources they have that can help them improve, and they challenge themselves to complete extra work to make sure they’re ready for a test. Many of my students choose to rewrite their assignments to fix the grammar mistakes–they don’t settle for less than their best. Because we’re consistent as a staff on allowing students to redo assignments as long as they’ve learned the content, redoing work isn’t viewed negatively, but instead as a learning opportunity.
What do high expectations mean to you?
It’s the belief that students should put all their effort into something, and even if they don’t get it the first time, it’s not that they can’t, just that they need to try again. I think it’s important that teachers not just lower their expectations because something is more difficult. Everyone learns differently, but they can get to the same end goal if they have help and practice.
Last year, you increased the number of students who passed the AP English exam by 30%. How did you make that happen?
I made sure that students knew about the opportunities that AP provided them–primarily that they would leave high school with college credit. I also used a lot of repeated practice and tracking their progress.
We really individualized students’ learning. If certain students didn’t need as much writing practice, they would focus more on reading and improving their accuracy with multiple choice questions. We focused a lot on self monitoring, and we also tied in a lot of current events and socratic seminars. Many of the AP writing topics are about politics and current events, and being well-versed in these topics gave students confidence in their ideas.
How has being at a school that is a strong fit for you made an impact on you?
Being at a school that is a great fit makes everything run more smoothly. When I started last year, even though I was new to the school, there wasn’t any wasted time. I already understood how everything went, which took away a lot of the stress and mental energy I would have had to spend on getting adjusted, and I could spend time on things that were more important. I was also able to get more involved in activities at school, even in my first year there. I coached cross country, and I didn’t feel like it was too much to take on because I already felt comfortable with the environment because the school was such a strong fit.
Are you ready to find a school where you can lead your students to path-changing growth in a supportive environment? Contact the matchmakers at OneTeacher today, and let us connect you to your “perfect fit” school and role!