Teaching can be one of the most rewarding professions and, at times, one of the most challenging. One area teacher is working to address those challenges not only in her district but also at the state level.
Texas High teacher Brooke Ferguson, who has taught in the district for six years, has been named a Teach Plus Policy Fellow and works with 51 other teachers in this year's cohort to bring about positive change in education.
"The goal is really to influence legislative and educational policy," she said. That can be in the form of legwork, talking to representatives, writing political briefs and letters to the editor.
"We are trying to give teachers and students a voice from people who are in the classroom, which I think is important," she added. "When the Legislature starts back up in January, we will look at some of the subject matter on the table for education. We will write briefs and give recommendations. Several members have already testified on certain issues. As a group, we just all try to show up and be a part of that and affect change through leadership."
This is the second Teach Plus cohort in Texas, and Ferguson is the only teacher in it from East Texas. She joins teachers from San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Amarillo who share ideas regularly through video conferencing. Ferguson's portion of the team is focusing on trauma-informed instruction and creating pathways for teacher leadership with differentiated compensation, two issues about which she is very passionate.
"In education, you're either an administrator or a teacher," she said. "We have really good teachers who leave the classroom to advance their career. We want the legislature to provide avenues for differentiated compensation and set a standard for school districts to aim for so it can create additional opportunities for teachers."
She said that could include being an instructional coach, a mentor, a counselor or an informational technology expert. Teachers could be in the classroom half a day and work at the other positions the other half.
"These are a lot of things teachers do on their own, but if we could get the Legislature to provide some matching funds, then they could indicate to districts that it's a priority to keep good teachers in the classroom," she said.
Ferguson said trauma-informed instruction training is something also sorely needed in classrooms because teachers are not currently trained to deal with all the issues students encounter, including abuse and homelessness.
"We are the ones they trust. We are the ones who build a relationship with them on a regular basis," she said. "I know several students who are homeless. I go home and cry and don't know how to help them.
"I need to know what I can do more of to help them
and I think that teachers would benefit to receive training on how to deal
with the trauma that our students experience."
She added that the system is set up for those students to rely on a guidance counselor or case worker but that both can be overloaded with other tasks and unable to give the students the assistance they sorely need.
"Student trauma is teacher trauma," Ferguson said. "It is so true because the really good teachers who are in this because it is a calling, they are burdened. We need to train them so they have good active solutions for it."
Ferguson teaches 10th- and 12th-grade English at THS, where she is a teacher leader on the student advocacy committee and campus representative of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. In 2015, she was one of eight Texas teachers nominated to attend the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers national convention. She also co-founded the East Texas Teachers Association and serves as its acting president. Ferguson graduated from Texas A&M University-Texarkana with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and is working on a master's degree in English at her alma mater.
She said she is excited to be a part of the cohort and that she's been given a hands-on opportunity to create change.
"It is a lot of extensive work and I feel good about trying to advocate for change," she said. "I've always felt like I have to stick up for the underdog my whole life. It feels good to put that personal characteristic to work for something that might impact the lives of students and teachers."
For more information on Teach Plus, go to teachplus.org/tx.