Economy, passion bring first-year teachers into Victoria classrooms

During a pause of an algebra class assignment, first-year teacher, Danielle Austin, further explains math exercises to her freshman students Tuesday at Victoria East High School.
  • NEW TEACHERS ON THE BLOCK Of the 148 new teachers in the Victoria school district, 62 were first-year, zero-experience teachers.

    A first-year teacher with no classroom experience makes $40,000. Math and sciences teachers and those teaching bilingual education can receive ...

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  • NEW TEACHERS ON THE BLOCK Of the 148 new teachers in the Victoria school district, 62 were first-year, zero-experience teachers.

    A first-year teacher with no classroom experience makes $40,000. Math and sciences teachers and those teaching bilingual education can receive $3,000 stipends.

    First-year teachers are assigned a mentor within their department to help with transitioning them into their new roles.

    Learning classroom management was the No. 1 fear for first-year teachers interviewed.

    Source: Victoria School District

Rubber shoe soles pattered around the new hallways of Victoria East High School seconds after the bell rung.

While students poke fun and giggle their way to the last class of the day, Danielle Austin, an algebra and geometry teacher, shuffles to do hallway sweeps.

After a first week of teaching, the 22-year-old, first-year teacher has learned the No. 1 key to classroom management.

"I have The Look," she said, explaining how she gets her students to calm down. "It's really easy to just give a look and wait for them to be quiet."

Austin, a Memorial High School graduate, can easily be mistaken for a student when wearing her East Titans spirit shirt and blue jeans.

She is one of 62 first-year teachers the district hired for the school year. Of those, 15 are like Austin, and ended up teaching through a non-traditional route after either scouring a sour job market or discovering a passion for students.

"I hope I'm that teacher that everyone wants to see," Austin said.

The quickest and easiest way for college graduates who did not study education to get into teaching is through alternative certification.

The district hired about 15 teachers with the certifications this year, something that at one time carried a stigma with educators.

"Years ago, they might have looked as being substandard," said Greg Crockett, principal at East.

But, because of the economy and teacher shortages, Crockett believes the process has become a trend.

"What we're finding more and more is that jobs are hard to find in towns or in the workforce, and people are deciding to take their degree and get certified and teach," he said.

Austin has a math degree, and although she was never 100 percent sure of teaching, the University of Houston-Victoria graduate knew she'd always be good at it.

"I've got a lot of stuff I've got to do, but I'm ready," she said. "The nerves are gone."

Overall, the district hired 148 teachers this year, a number slightly up to deal with increased enrollment and the opening of new schools.

New teachers with no experience start with a yearly salary of $40,000. Math teachers like Austin get a $3,000 stipend in addition, something that can be appealing to a recent graduate.

"Once you grow up, you start looking at things differently," said Daryl Sedlacek, a math teacher at Victoria West High School.

Sedlacek studied engineering at Texas Tech University and fell into the profession after searching in a poor job market.

"You realize things you didn't used to enjoy you really do," he said.

Sedlacek is also a swimming coach for the school, a sport he was passionate about in high school.

"The opportunity to stay involved with it and have an impact on kids' lives was probably the biggest reasons I took a job," he said.

Cody McDonald, a former student pastor-turned teacher, took the job because he wanted to help young people.

"It's the last place for adults to really have an impact on students before they go out on their own," he said.

McDonald has a degree in psychology and now teaches math at Victoria West High School.

"There's so much potential in a high school student," he said, while taking a break between classes.

Regardless of the pathway to education, the real test for teachers happens in the classroom.

"It's fairly easy to become a teacher, but it is very difficult to do it well," Crockett said. "Teaching effectively is hard work, and it takes a lot of practice, and it takes a lot of trial and error and persevering when things get tough."

For Austin, who hopes to get a master's degree and teach in higher education, her first week of instruction came naturally.

"It's coming pretty easily to me," she said, her classroom clear of students.

Although she's not sure how long she'll be at the high school, she's sure she is in the field to stay.

"I'm 22 and starting the rest of my life," she said.