First-year Teacher Nguyen Finds Career Niche through HCDE’s Teacher Alternative Certification Program

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April 17, 2018 by HCDE Communications

teacher alternative certification, new teachers, teacher training First-year teacher Christopher Nguyen sees himself as a guide for the next generation after his own struggles growing up without much life direction.

Post-college, he moved from one job to the next: nanny, librarian, martial arts instructor and cook. Once he decided to teach, Nguyen researched alternative teacher certification programs and chose Harris County Department of Education’s Teacher Alternative Certification Program.

HCDE’s educator preparation program provides a personalized training experience for aspiring teachers as qualified college graduates enter the program and spend seven to 10 months in pre-service training taking teacher preparation courses. The next 12 months are spent teaching and taking additional coursework. Veteran teachers model and mentor the new teachers with small group instruction which is hallmark to the teacher-prep program.

“In talking to fellow teachers, I have realized that the HCDE program had better prepared me for my school year because of their hands-on methods and excellent and experience staff,” Nguyen said.

Since 2011, the program has recorded an average 99 percent pass rate for students completing the courses and taking the certification exams, said Lidia Zatopek, director for HCDE’s Education Certification and Professional Advancement. Assistance is provided in securing teaching assignments in elementary or secondary education classrooms.

Nguyen found his first-year assignment at Worthing High School, a predominantly African-American, low-socioeconomic, Title 1 school which is being monitored by the Texas Education Agency for low performance. Many of his students came into his
physics class reading at a fourth-grade level. In one year he’s watched them grow academically and emotionally.

Houston Independent School District Assistant Principal Ashley Britton points to Nguyen’s energy and passion as part of the reason students in his classroom have seen phenomenal growth, moving from 20 to 70 percent proficiency for subject-area benchmarks.

“He incorporates a lot of writing and reading into the classroom,” she said. “He makes kids think outside the box and gets buy-in from them.”

The first-year physics teacher works determinably at a fast pace, moving with laser-focus from one student to the next in the eight stations he created to study electric force. They work with everyday household items like PVC pipe, balloons, straws and water. Comprehension of theories and hypotheses must be shared in everyday terms.
“I try my best to model it to real-world cases that will be supported by the student’s own background knowledge,” he said. “In that way, I hope the lesson sticks.
“Being able to observe their growth is very rewarding.”

The novice teacher doesn’t mind giving up lunch hours and planning periods for tutoring or leaving campus late after teaching extracurricular martial arts classes.

In fact, it’s hardly registered that Nguyen has earned the nomination of “Teacher of the Year” at Worthing High. He is also a nominee for the Texas Alternative Certification Association Intern of the Year.

Still, the 28-year old realizes he’s taken on a challenging tour of duty.
“By throwing myself into the fire, I (thought I) would hopefully be able to become a better teacher,” he said.

Student Darius Hines, 16, never much liked science before his teacher came to Worthing. These days he looks forward to coming to physics class.

“We have a really good connection with him,” Hines said. “He’s just a great teacher.”
HCDE is recruiting teachers for its Teacher Alternative Certification Program. For more information, go to , call 713-696-1348 or email

Photo: First-year teacher Christopher Nguyen works with student Darius Hines in his physics class at Worthing High School. Nguyen gained his college degree and is now working on his certification through Harris County Department of Education’s Teacher Alternative Certification Program. For information about the program, go to .

About Harris County Department of Education: HCDE provides special education, therapy services, early education, adult education and after-school programming. Services are funded by government grants, fees and a local property tax rate of $.005195. For every dollar in local property tax collected, HCDE provides $4.40 in services to the 25 Harris County school districts. HCDE also operates four campuses for students with profound special education needs and adjudicated youth who require a low student-teacher ratio and highly structured environment. One-hundred percent of students served on HCDE campuses are at-risk. The organization is governed by an elected board of seven trustees and has 1,060 employees and 33 facilities, including 15 Head Start centers. More info at

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