UHV teacher alumni help build Coastal Bend communities

Ever since Lori Maurer was a fifth-grader, she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. With a passion for learning and a teacher who inspired her, the Houston native and two-time University of Houston-Victoria alumna began picturing herself as a teacher.

Lori Maurer

“My teacher was just amazing. She saw the potential is every single one of her students, and she had a heart for teaching,” Maurer said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than being in education and watching students grow.”

Maurer is just one of hundreds of UHV alumni teaching in the state, and she completed her first year this spring as an assistant principal at Mayde Creek Elementary School in Katy.

Fred Litton

“We appreciate all the work our UHV alumni continue to do,” said Fred Litton, dean of the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for us all, and now more than ever, we appreciate the work of the teachers in our communities.”

In fall 2018, Maurer earned a Master of Education in Administration & Supervision with a concentration in principalship from UHV and was named the Outstanding Graduate Student for the university’s School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. She also has a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Early Childhood through Grade 6 from UHV.

Before becoming an administrator, Maurer worked for three years as an elementary math and science teacher and for another three years as a math and science instructional coach for teachers. Maurer enjoyed helping both students and teachers in the classroom. Even years later, former students reach out to Maurer on social media to let her know that her teaching helped them.

“One student reached out to me and told me I was her favorite teacher because I was patient when I worked with her,” Maurer said. “When I hear something like that, it’s a confirmation that I am where I need to be. Kids are always paying attention to you whether or not you realize it.”

Maurer said she chose UHV because she heard from other teachers about the UHV education program. Amy Barnhill, a UHV associate professor of education, said the faculty at UHV is closely connected with the Texas Education Agency to stay up to date with state requirements and to be ready for any changes with state testing.

Barnhill, who also taught at the elementary- and middle-school levels before teaching in higher education, said the education faculty members use their personal experiences of being in the classroom to help prepare UHV students. While the state requires 30 hours of observation for education students, UHV requires students to have 45 hours of observation and teaching small groups.

Many alumni keep in touch with UHV education faculty long after they’ve graduated to reach out for advice, Barnhill said.

Amy Barnhill

“Teachers do what they have to do to teach their kids – that’s just what teachers do,” Barnhill said. “Next to parents and guardians, a teacher is the most important person in a child’s life. Being a teacher is a big responsibility but a necessary part of a child’s development and growth. At UHV, we understand that, and we want our students to feel comfortable coming back to us to ask for support or advice when they need it.”

Meagan Alex, a third-grade teacher at Edna Elementary School in Edna, is grateful to have the opportunity to teach the children of her family and friends. The Edna native graduated in 2017 from UHV with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Early Childhood to Grade 6. At the end of the summer, she will receive a UHV Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in elementary education.

Alex has taught in Edna for three years, including one year in pre-kindergarten. After her first couple of years, Alex gained not only the experience of teaching at different grade levels, but also learned about herself as a teacher. She began to create fun, interactive lessons for her students, such as using different objects to explain the five senses.

In 2019, Alex was a part of the Texas Lesson Study Professional Development program, a free online database of lesson plans and video lesson plans aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Alex videotaped an elementary classroom lesson about finding the main idea, details and inferencing in reading passages. She plans to eventually become a curriculum coach to help other teachers build lesson plans and teaching strategies. Alex also received the 2018-2019 Superintendent Award for the elementary level from the Edna Independent School District.

Meagan Alex

“Through my education and experience, I’ve learned how to work with other teachers because you’re not teaching alone,” Alex said. “Teaching is not an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. job. Because education is constantly changing, teachers have professional development days, work on the weekends and through the summer to prep lessons, and grade papers at night. We put in the hours we need to be the best we can be for our students.”

Alex, like many teachers across the country, spent half of the spring trying to figure out how to best teach her third-graders virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools. Creating a parent-teacher bond became more important than ever as students learned from Alex from home. Parents messaged Alex throughout the day and evening with questions about how their child was doing or what they could do to help their child learn.

“Having that bond with parents is important because we all want our children to be taken care of,” Alex said. “It’s really nice to be able to go back to my home community and teach alongside the teachers I had growing up. We are helping to shape the future of what the town is going to be.”

Janelle Bouknight, a UHV assistant professor of literacy education, said UHV’s location is important in the Crossroads because many alumni like Alex are from a rural area and want to go back and teach in their communities.

Janelle Bouknight

“It is exciting for people in those communities to have someone they know going back to teach,” Bouknight said. “Rural school districts face challenges getting quality teachers, and UHV’s students can be part of the solution.”

For UHV alumna Marci Alldred, teaching high school students has been an awarding experience. Alldred teaches junior Advanced Placement and English courses at Foster High School in Richmond. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2018 from UHV. In the fall, she will begin UHV courses to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Alldred is originally from Philadelphia and also has an associate degree from Wharton County Junior College.

Though Alldred spent 10 years teaching at the pre-kindergarten level, she just completed her first year teaching at a high school. Alldred also was inspired to become a teacher by one of her teachers growing up.

Marci Alldred

“Teaching at the high-school level is different because you have to earn students’ trust and respect differently, but once you do, they let you help them,” Alldred said. “Teens can be dealing with anxiety with school, family, friends and their social life, and sometimes those 45 minutes in your classroom are everything for them. If a student walks into your classroom and feels better being there, that makes it all worthwhile.”

Alldred said she helped her students during the pandemic by providing stability and empathy. As the Houston area became a hot spot for the coronavirus, Alldred made sure to not overwhelm her students with classwork and instead created class projects to keep them engaged. Alldred still keeps in touch with other UHV alumni, who are now her colleagues in surrounding school districts.

“As a teacher, you are committed not only to teaching, but also to being a lifelong learner,” Alldred said. “It’s a wonderful field to be in, one that is constantly changing.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Amber Aldaco