HCDE’s Alternative Teacher Certification Program Offers Second Chance at Happiness to HISD Teacher

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April 19, 2023 by HCDE Communications

In many countries outside of the United States, access to education is a luxury.

For 28-year-old Nhu Tran, who recently completed her Alternative Certification Program (ACP) to become a teacher through Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Educator Success (CES), educational opportunities in her home country were limited.

Nhu Tran, center, poses for a photo with CES staff, July 12, 2022.

“The education system in Asian countries is really extreme,” said Tran, a seventh-grade math teacher at Energized for Excellence Academy in Houston ISD. “I feel sometimes it’s not fair for girls in Vietnam. A lot of people still believe that girls don’t need to study a lot—just enough to graduate from high school and that’s it. They place a lot of focus on girls taking care of the family. I think my parents foresaw that.”

In 2011, when she was 16 years old, Tran’s parents decided to send her to live with an uncle in Houston to broaden her educational opportunities. Tran recalls the challenges of moving to a new country and enrolling in Fort Bend Christian Academy.

“I see myself in my students because I teach mostly English Language Learners,” said Tran. “I had zero English skills. I cried almost every day. I didn’t understand a single word. But a lot of my teachers helped me out and I learned a lot during my first year here.”

One teacher in particular, her math teacher Marcy Allen, took on a special role in Tran’s life.

“I still keep in touch with her because she was willing to stay after school to help me with homework and my English pronunciation,” said Train. “Sometimes she even took me out to teach me about the culture in Houston, like the rodeo. I feel like I have learned a lot from her.”

Nhu Tran, left, poses for a photo with her high school math teacher and mentor, Marcy Allen, left.

With the support of her teachers, Tran graduated high school and went on to obtain a bachelor’s in petroleum engineering from the University of Houston. However, she graduated amid the 2018 oil crash. Unable to find work, she pursued a Master of Business Administration from the University of Houston-Downtown only to graduate during the height of the pandemic in December 2020.

Eventually, she found a job as an accountant at a small firm.

“After working with them for a year, I figured out that position wasn’t a good fit for me because we didn’t see clients in the office. Everything was done through email and phone calls, and I wanted to interact with people,” Tran said. “Around that time, I had a chance to talk with Mrs. Allen. She asked about my job and I told her how unhappy I was. She suggested I try being a math teacher. She thought it would be a good fit.”

Tran got to work. Through a college friend who graduated as an engineer and later became a teacher, she learned about HCDE’s ACP program. She enrolled in the program during the 2021-2022 school year and will complete her first year as a classroom teacher this spring.

At the beginning of March, Tran’s students voted her as “Teacher of the Week.” It was the first time the school granted this designation to any teacher.

A few weeks later during spring break, Tran successfully passed the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) assessment to teach math in grades 4-8 making her a certified teacher.

“As soon as I met her, I knew immediately she had what it takes to be a great teacher,” said CES Officer of Elementary Curriculum Andrea Segraves. “She came to our summer intensive program last year and was so quiet. However, she learned many tools and techniques and came out as a standout educator. Since then, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to be her mentor and appraiser. I’ve spent this school year observing and coaching her.”

The experience proved to be necessary.

“The summer intensive was the reason I chose to continue my ACP with HCDE,” said Tran. “My background is nothing related to the education field, so I was really nervous before I went to the summer intensive program. But it helped me learn how to improve my teaching skills inside the classroom and build relationships with the students. Everyone helped me feel much more confident as a teacher.”

The results were tangible and immediate.

“Students love her and beg her to let them stay in her classroom,” said Segraves. “She is simply a phenomenal new teacher and a product of our program. In my book, Nhu is the Rookie of the Year!”

The value of becoming a certified teacher through the CES is the personalized support and access to program advisors. The support often extends beyond the scope of most ACP programs in Texas.

Nhu Tran, left, poses for a photo with CES Officer of Elementary Curriculum Andrea Segraves.

“Andrea is really helpful!” exclaimed Tran. “I didn’t know how to set up my classroom so she offered to help me. She brought learning materials for my students, and even materials to decorate. During my classroom observations, she was calm and gave me a lot of useful feedback, including ways I could improve. I’m so lucky to be a part of this program!”

For Tran, teaching is a vocation and not just a job. She often stays late on campus and tutors her students during weekends and holidays.

“I just love being around the students. Whenever I see my students solve a math problem and see the expression on their faces, I am so happy for them. I just love that feeling so much,” she said. “Whatever effort I put out is actually worth it because my students are learning and they are enjoying it.”

In the pursuit of her own educational and career opportunities, which she is now paying forward to her students, Tran has not seen her mother in 12 years.

She plans to reunite with her when she travels to Vietnam this summer.

To learn more about the Center for Educator Success, visit hcde-texas.org/CES.

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