NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University teacher candidates and East Texas students are benefiting from a grant program launched by the Texas Education Agency in 2018.
One of the goals of the Grow Your Own grant program is to recruit and retain teacher candidates in hard-to-staff areas like small and rural school districts.
Pathway 3 of the grant focuses on creating well-qualified teacher candidates through a yearlong clinical teaching assignment that allows them to develop the skills, knowledge and mindsets critical to success in each unique school context.
To obtain financial support for teacher candidates who want to pursue teaching careers in East Texas, Dr. Christina Sinclair, associate dean in SFA’s James I. Perkins College of Education, established a clinical teaching partnership with Martinsville Independent School District, which serves more than 300 students in Nacogdoches County.
“SFA’s Educator Preparation Program seeks to be a good partner to K-12 school districts,” Sinclair said. “TEA’s Grow Your Own grant creates a unique and mutually beneficial partnership opportunity with rural school districts, in this case Martinsville ISD.”
In 2018, Sinclair worked with Zach Crawford, an SFA alumnus and then junior high and high school principal at MISD, to establish the partnership that forms the foundation for the Grown Your Own grant work.
“As a native of East Texas, I wanted to partner with SFA on the secondary level to provide on-campus training opportunities for future teachers and allow them the firsthand experiences of a great small, rural school and community,” Crawford said.
For the 2019-20 school year, four SFA teacher candidates received $96,000 from the Grow Your Own grant program to fund their clinical teaching efforts at MISD. By that time, another SFA alumnus, Will Cauthen, began serving as pre-K-12 principal for MISD when Crawford moved to a high school principal position at Broaddus ISD. Cauthen supported the SFA teacher candidates throughout their experience.
“Martinsville has always been flexible in our student teaching partnerships, and SFA has done an outstanding job preparing their student teachers for the teaching field,” Cauthen said.
The Grow Your Own grant program benefits rural school districts by allowing student teachers to train at the same school district all year, according to Cauthen.
“Home-grown teachers stay,” he said. “If we are able to hire teachers who enjoy the small rural school setting, then these teachers and coaches will one day be our seasoned teachers who build on years of success and stability.”
The four teacher candidates selected for the program were Turner Edwards and Valarie Larkin Fountain, who hold bachelor’s degrees in kinesiology with a focus on early childhood through 12th grade physical education, and Brandi Moody and Kaylie Clausen, who hold bachelor’s degrees in agriculture with a focus on agricultural development. All four graduated from SFA in May and earned their teacher certifications after working for a year in Martinsville schools.
Originally from Garrison, Edwards heard about the grant program from David Goodman, lecturer of kinesiology and coordinator for the kinesiology EC-12 physical education program at SFA.
“I received a lot of real-world training that many teacher candidates don’t get,” he said. “This will help me be much more prepared for my first year of teaching and coaching.”
Fountain, who grew up in Slocum, also heard about the program from Goodman and Sharon Rice, lecturer of kinesiology at SFA. MISD helped her gain teaching knowledge by letting her get her “hands dirty,” Fountain said.
“If I ever was interested in a drill or lesson or idea, they were more than willing to let me try it out, which is so important, especially in student teaching,” she said. “They set me up in every way to be successful.”
To help Fountain participate in after-school practices and games while student teaching during her senior year, MISD arranged for her son to join its pre-K program for the remainder of the year.
“That is something that MISD most certainly didn’t have to do, but they did without me even asking, and I am forever grateful for it,” Fountain said.
Moody, originally from Longstreet, Louisiana, and Clausen, who grew up in La Porte, applied for the program after hearing about it from Dr. Candis Carraway, assistant professor of agriculture at SFA.
“I had 11 clinical teachers this semester, but only two wanted to stay close to Nacogdoches for clinical teaching and their teaching career,” Carraway said. “So Brandi and Kaylie were natural fits for the grant.”
Though from an urban area, Clausen knew she wanted to teach in a rural district.
“East Texas is beautiful and so different from the Houston area. I love how much more calm and rural it is here,” she said. “I immediately felt at home here and knew this is where I belong.”
Carraway, who is a field supervisor for the grant program, added that the student teaching experience is different under Grow Your Own because the clinical teachers are placed in the school to observe the semester before they begin their internship hours.
“Normally teacher candidates are not placed in the same school where they’ve observed a semester, and the only supervision they get for the internship is from their College of Education professor who is teaching the course that requires the internship hours,” Carraway said.
Moody was drawn to the grant program because of this extra time in the same district.
“I got to see a full year’s worth of instruction and planning,” she said. “It also allowed me to become familiar with the students, faculty, staff and school culture.”
To help ensure a successful experience in Martinsville schools, the four teacher candidates received guidance from field supervisors at SFA and cooperating teachers at MISD.
Goodman, a field supervisor for the program, said building relationships and partnerships is a large part of the program’s success.
“It takes an openness to allowing the relationships and partnerships to be built in the first place,” he said. “It also requires mentor teachers in the school districts who are willing to work with these future teachers and still complete their normal teaching and coaching responsibilities.”
Goodman selected Edwards and Fountain for this program because they both grew up in small school districts and would understand the culture.
“And because Martinsville ISD is so small, the teachers and administrators could observe Turner and Valarie on a daily basis and could see how well they worked teaching the students,” Goodman added.
Edwards and Fountain worked with Goodman and Danny Enloe, head coach and social studies teacher at Martinsville High School, to fine-tune lesson plans and ensure a good learning experience.
Fountain also worked with Christi Cauthen, wife of Will, girls’ basketball coach and third grade teacher at Martinsville Elementary.
“It’s important to make sure new teachers receive the guidance they need because they are the future of education and ultimately help determine the success of our future generations,” Christi said. “At Martinsville, we are a family, and we take care of each other.”
Clausen and Moody worked with Carraway as well as James Byrd and Samantha Cobb, career and technical education teachers at Martinsville High School.
Cobb, who is moving to a business manager role in training beginning with the 2020-21 school year, helped Clausen and Moody find their “teacher voice” when disciplining students and achieve a work-life balance in a role filled with extracurricular activities, including Future Farmers of America events.
“You have to learn time management skills and ways to navigate having a family and finding time for yourself while juggling all your responsibilities,” Cobb said.
Upon graduation, all four teacher candidates secured jobs in East Texas school districts. MISD hired Edwards as the head boys’ basketball coach and a history teacher; Fountain as the head softball coach, girls’ assistant basketball coach and a PE and history teacher; and Moody as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. Westwood ISD in Palestine hired Clausen as an agriculture science teacher.
The Cauthens said that during their internships, the four teacher candidates exhibited the qualities teachers and coaches in rural districts need: flexibility, open mindedness and simply the joy of working with students.
“Small rural schools, especially MISD, have a limited amount of staff,” Will said. “But we are able to still compete at a high level both academically and athletically. Our family atmosphere has contributed to everyone working toward a common goal of excellence.”
He added that MISD’s partnership with SFA on the Grow Your Own grant program “has done what we all hoped it would. MISD has benefited from the program by being able to hire our student teachers, and we are excited to see what the future holds for our new hires and Martinsville ISD.”
Sinclair said she hopes to expand SFA’s Grow Your Own partnership to include additional rural districts in the next cycle of the grant.
For more information on this program, email Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org.