The Texas Council of Social Studies named five teachers of the year for 2021.
Two are working in Denton ISD.
Anna Braudrick, named the 2021 Betty Barringer Middle School Teacher of the Year, teaches at Lester Davis School, an alternative learning center for students in the district working through behavioral infractions.
Morgan Howell, named the 2021 Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year by the council, teaches at Braswell High School. Both teachers said their passion for the profession brings them to the classroom each day with a drive to engage all students. Even the students who roll their eyes at the subject.
Anna Braudrick: ‘None of my students are bad kids’
Braudrick teaches social studies to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the Lester Davis School, a disciplinary alternative education program for students who temporarily can’t attend classes on their home campuses for violating the student code of conduct.
She earned her education degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of North Texas, but she knew she was destined to be a teacher long before college.
“I’ve always known I was going to be a teacher,” Braudrick said. “I was that weird 4-year-old who taught my stuffed animals. When I was 5 or 6, I was writing out detention passes. And that was back in the 1980s, when there were no such thing as disciplinary schools, so that was funny.”
During her college years, Braudrick said she was sure she wanted to teach elementary school. She even insisted she couldn’t teach middle schoolers. But then came observing the classes where she would be a student teacher.
“That’s where I was like ‘This is my gig. I need to be in middle school,’” Braudrick said.
But new teachers can’t always start at the grade level they want to teach. That was the case for Braudrick. She served as a long-term substitute teacher at Touchstone Academy, the disciplinary alternative education program housed at Fred Moore High School, from 2003 to 2004. When an elementary school teaching position opened in the district during a summer, the principal urged her to accept a position elsewhere if she felt she needed to.
“An hour before I got a Garland position, I got the elementary position,” she said. “I never looked back.”
Touchstone was moved from Fred Moore to its current location in 2004, and then renamed Lester Davis School. Braudrick has spent all 23 years of her teaching career at the school. She’s taught English at the campus, but said her passion is for doing what she does now: teaching sixth graders contemporary world cultures, breaking down Texas history for seventh graders and stepping back in time to American history with eighth graders — from the founding of Jamestown in 1609 to the post-Civil War Reconstruction in 1877.
Unlike her peers on other campuses, Braudrick tutors students for short periods of time, and her mission is to get them caught up and ready to head back to their home campuses.
“Some are only here for six weeks, and some of them have been out of class for up to a week when they get here,” she said. “I have some I call ‘frequent flyers,’ but I like to say they’re so successful here that they find ways to come back.”
When she teaches, Brauderick said she doesn’t see problem kids. She sees students who need more attention and more structure to get back to school.
“None of these students are bad kids. Not one of them,” she said. “These are students who made one bad decision. It’s my job to teach them the content they need, and to make good choices. We teach a lot of life skills here. I’ve had one UNT student body president in my classroom back when he was in eighth grade. The perfect student can end up here as the result of one bad choice.”
Braudrick laughs thinking about a trip to Walmart, where she overheard a staffer talking to coworkers and making generous use of colorful language.
“I looked and it was one of my former students,” she said. “He was wearing his vest, and his friends were wearing their vests. I wasn’t thinking too much of it, I just overheard them and recognized him. He looked at me and went: ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry, Ms. Braudrick,’ and then he pulled up his pants and stopped cussing. I must have that teacher face. But I tell them, ‘I’m not here to teach you how to get through this program. I’m here to teach you the skills to get a job, or to stay in a marriage if that’s what you choose.’ We teach them life skills.”
Morgan Howell: If you want to change your world, understand the past
Morgan Howell teaches world history to sophomores at Braswell High School, where she often skips textbook lessons in favor of challenging students to seek out historical sources and learn not only about the past, but how to find credible sources as they learn.
Howell earned her teaching degree at Texas Tech University, and completed her student teaching in Lubbock ISD. This is her fourth year teaching, and while Howell said she knows she’s a new teacher, she’s committed to her students and her subject. That means she’s always reading, studying and participating in professional development.
At the start of her career, Howell said she didn’t think high school was in the cards for her.
“I actually planned to be a middle school teacher,” Howell said. “But then COVID happened. I moved in with my mom to save money, which made me miss Dallas. So I started applying to schools in North Texas. I’d heard really great things about Denton ISD.”
Braswell offered her a position teaching social studies, and Howell accepted, taking on world history. It was a pivot from her first job teaching American history to Texas eighth graders.
“World history was a big shift for me,” Howell said. “You have to teach in a way that 15-year-olds can understand. And you teach everything from pre-history to now, really.”
Howell said she’s a history buff herself.
“It was always my best subject,” she said. “I fell in love with teaching history, and I have to say I think it helps to teach something you’re passionate about.”
Howell said she’s prepared for students to dread the subject, with its reputation for dates, places and dry legal tectonics.
“I think we’re seeing a shift away from memorization,” Howell said. “Instead, history and social studies are moving toward learning how to think about things. I tell them ‘I’m not here to make you memorize a bunch of things.’ I want them to want to know why things are the way they are, and how the way things were led to it.”
Howell said she was surprised to be nominated for the award, and showed her mother the e-mail notifying her of her win.
“I wanted to make sure I was reading it right,” she said. “I was like ‘Mom, does this say what I think it says?’ She said it did. She burst into tears because she’s my mom. We did a little happy dance.”
Howell said her students might begin the school year reluctant to study the subject, but most get interested in some part of the course.
“Most of them are pretty predictable,” she said. They’re interested in the wars, or the plagues — which was actually good during COVID. But they also get interested in other aspects of history, too. In the end, I want students to see that its hard for us to make a change without knowing why our world is the way it is. Understanding history can show you that.”
Howell said that being a good teacher means putting your students first.
“You have to put them first,” she said. “I try really hard to make sure my students feel safe, and to let them know that I am on their side. Good teachers want students to succeed, and I think kids can tell if you’re faking passion. And you can’t be afraid to make a mistake as the teacher. If I get a history fact wrong, and they call me on it, I respond to that. I model that for them. We all make mistakes. Being a teacher doesn’t make you perfect, even in your subject.”
Howell said Denton ISD and Braswell High School had a good reputation. She’d heard that Principal DeCorian Hailey was a fair, smart administrator who supports teachers and the staff.
“Dr. Hailey was a rock star, is what I was told. That turned out to be 100 percent true,” she said. “When your principal supports teachers, the principal is supporting the students.”
Howell said she intends to continue teaching. She might even try to move up into administration, she said, but she intends to make a difference for students.
“At the very least, I want to be an educator until I retire,” she said.