The 2012 Louisiana Teacher of the Year in the state’s High School Division is a natural – but she works hard at something she loves anyway, just in case.
Title: English I Teacher, Ruston High School
Now resides in: Ruston
Degrees: B.A., secondary English education; M.A., English; certificate of technical writing, ’09.
Tell us what a ‘regular’ day is like for you: On a regular day, I teach freshmen at Ruston High School. I will often exercise at the Lambright Center after school, and I spend the evenings with my husband, Jason Howell, who is the youth pastor at The Bridge Community Church. More often than not, I either have Bible Study, Wednesday Night Youth Group, Book Club, or a Tech class to attend on weeknights.
What brought you to Tech? I came to Tech initially because of TOPS and the University’s close proximity to Shreveport, my hometown.
Why did you choose this career? As a second-grader, I dreamed of no other vocation save that of teaching, and my favorite pastime was teaching my stuffed animals and dolls. Quite comically, I recently found my diary from second grade in which I wrote the following sentiments: “ I love school. I love school so so so so so so much. I will be sad when summer comes.” My students found that diary entry strange yet funny, and they said that it explained a lot about me.
It was in Mrs. Cooper’s English I class at C.E. Byrd High School, however, that I came alive to literature and writing, discovering passion for my chosen content area. Before high school, I saw myself as an average student, but with Mrs. Cooper’s influence, I realized my untapped potential. A timid teen who often underestimated myself, I was filled with trepidation when I entered her class; nevertheless, the truths she taught linger with me still today: I have something to contribute; I must begin where I am; I must move forward. God instilled a love for teaching in me at a young age, and when I entered Louisiana Tech University as a freshman, I knew what my call was—I was to be an educator who would stop at nothing to be the most effective teacher possible.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? My husband and I really love Ruston. He is very passionate about his job at The Bridge Community Church, and I love Ruston High School, so I see us in Ruston for a while. I have recently started the doctoral program in education, so in five to 10 years, I hope to have completed that program, and I earnestly want to have children in the next few years.
Your best memories of Tech: I have so many great memories from college—dating my husband, attending Common Ground worship services, working on campus, studying in the Quad….But one of my most poignant memories at Tech was getting the keys to the then brand-new University Park apartment my junior year. After two years in the dorm, my best friend and roommate, Cassie Martin Hammett, and I unlocked the door and just jumped, screamed, and hugged each other. We were so excited!
Your advice to Tech freshmen today: I would advise all freshmen to live on campus. There is no better way to meet people and have fun than to live among your classmates. You have the rest of your life to live in an apartment or house off-campus. Also, I would advise freshmen not to attend class in pajamas. How yucky—what kind of message are you sending to your professor about your seriousness as a student?
What characteristics did your favorite teachers have?: There is no greater professor than Dr. Rick Simmons in the English Department. Dr. Simmons is so professional—from his dress, to his demeanor, to his organization of his class. He demanded much from us, and we delivered because we respected him.
What characteristics do your favorite students have? I love and adore my freshmen—they are quirky, hyper, inquisitive, sweet, and just downright loveable. I love curious students who question a text or even question me. I love when my students think! If a student says something particularly insightful or something I’ve never considered, I have this silly bell that I will ring!
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s:” …that you don’t have to prove yourself to people. You don’t have to talk over others’ heads to prove you’re smart; you don’t have to climb over other people to make a place for yourself. Working with young people has taught me that; they see through a phony façade in a second. If you seek first His kingdom, if you work hard and do right by people, well, that is more than enough.
Tell us about your family: I am married to the most talented, most compassionate, most humble, most loveable man—Jason Howell. He can counsel a student, give a sermon, remodel a house, fix a dryer, landscape a yard, play a bass guitar, work a complex math problem…the list goes on and on. He is one of those true Renaissance men who is good at everything he does. What I love about him most is that as a youth pastor, he is a catalyst of inspiration for young people. There is no higher calling.
And your hobbies: I love, love, love reading! And writing! I also really enjoy exercising.
And who you enjoy reading: My all-time favorite books are To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee); East of Eden (John Steinbeck); Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë); and Dombey and Son (Charles Dickens). I am in a book club in which we read sundry genres from dystopian fiction to nonfiction to classics to bestsellers. I really enjoy my book club because it challenges me to read titles that I would never pick on my own.
How did Tech prepare you for your career and, in general, life after college: I feel like I got an excellent education at Louisiana Tech University. The best thing I did for my teaching career was to go back and get a master’s degree in English.
I learned lessons outside of the classroom as well. In another arena, as a Tech student I was blessed to be able to work for dean Dickie Crawford and vice president Jim King in the Office of Student Affairs. When I think back on college, I am so thankful and blessed for the lessons that those men taught me. They treated me like a professional—not just a college student—and I learned so much about work ethic and professionalism from them. I saw them handle business with integrity and honesty, treating all people the same. They gave me the chance to take the initiative in the office and complete tasks the way I thought was most efficient. I saw Dr. King and Mr. Crawford handle difficult situations over and over again—and never lose their cool.