The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) has announced that Jeff Wheatcraft is the Texas Teacher of the Year and the Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. Jeff is a middle school Science Technology Engineering and Math teacher at Alamo Heights Junior School in San Antonio.
Jeff Wheatcraft did not come out of college and immediately start teaching. Although he had an Art Education degree, he had a passion for swing dancing. He became so well known in the swing dance community that people started asking him to teach them how to swing dance. He planned on opening a studio to teach. But life had other plans. Jeff got married and his wife became pregnant.
It was Jeff’s wife who said he should teach. She told him that he was great in front of a crowd teaching them how to dance. He agreed that teaching would be a much better career path for their new family. As they were driving home they saw a billboard that said “Want to teach? When can you start?” His wife said it was a sign that he should teach. She took down the phone number and he called when they got home.
Jeff started the A+Texas Teachers program in June of 2006. The painting company he was working for wouldn’t give him time off to focus on the training so he quit knowing that he was ready to teach. He completed the training and was able to get his Probationary Certificate and started teaching art in August of 2006.
During his training, his advisor at Texas Teachers had told him that there were not a lot of art teaching jobs and that he should get a second certification in a high needs area to ensure he could get hired that fall. Jeff had a passion for science and so he took and passed the science examination and earned his science teaching certificate.
During his first year of teaching he split time between two schools. One school had a great school culture while the other was not as good. At the end of the year, the school with the great culture had some science positions open. Because Jeff had his science certification, he applied and they hired him. They knew he was a great teacher and were confident he would be a great science teacher.
Jeff’s school had wanted him to create a STEM program to encourage and prepare more students for science programs in high school. Jeff did not want some “cookie cutter” out of the box science program so he set about researching a program that would really challenge and inspire middle school students to want to learn more about science in high school. He wanted his students to work on problems that truly needed to be solved. So he created a storm chaser program for middle school students – and his school approved it.
Jeff gives his students very complex problems that they must solve. These are problems they cannot solve by looking on Google or Wikipedia. While it is frustrating that there is no easy answer, Jeff says it is very rewarding when his students realize the point of the challenge and start to move towards the solution.
There are over 350,000 teachers in Texas and Jeff was selected through a lengthy process as the best in the state. A panel of judges composed of representatives of Texas teacher associations and last year’s Texas Teacher of the Year finalists selects the finalists from the 40 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year — one elementary and one secondary teacher from each of the 20 Texas Education Service Center regions. TASA then selects the Texas Teacher of the Year. Wheatcraft was also nominated twice for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).
When asked about teaching, Wheatcraft said, “There has not been a day in my teaching career that I wake up and don’t want to go into school. I love working on lesson plans that create something unique and inspiring and then sitting back and thinking – I can’t wait to see what the students are going to do with this!”
“We could not be prouder of Jeff and his accomplishments as a teacher,” said Vernon Reasor, CEO of Texas Teachers. “We had just launched in 2005 to attract great people like Jeff into the teaching profession. To see all that he has accomplished and how many lives he has positively impacted truly inspires all of us to do even more!”
When asked why he thinks he is the Teacher of the Year, Wheatcraft stated, “My students are successful because I find out what they truly need – not what the state or the school says they need. I find out what each student truly needs to be successful and make sure they get that.”
Coming from a Texas Alternative Certification Program (ACP), Jeff appreciates the backgrounds that ACP graduates like himself bring to the classroom. He wants to encourage other career changers to come into the Teaching profession through programs like the ACP because those teachers do bring a level of understanding of the content and real-world application of that content. He believes that his success in the STEM program really doesn’t come from a course but from his passion for the subject and his ability to really challenge his students.
He will now compete with educators from across the country to be the National Teacher of the Year as selected by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Wheatcraft will participate in one-of-a-kind professional learning opportunities designed to hone communications skills, expand knowledge of education policy, and grow teaching and learning practices. The goal of this programming is to elevate the voices of teachers and ensure that teachers are leaders in state and national policy conversations. A National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) is chosen from the State Teachers of the Year by a national selection committee representing the major national education organizations. Each spring, the NTOY is introduced to the American people by the U.S. president.
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Texas Teachers / Teachers of Tomorrow is the largest, fastest growing Teacher Certification Program in the nation, delivering online training to individuals who want to pursue a career in teaching. Teachers of Tomorrow attracts career changers with an average age of 32 into teaching so they can bring their real-world experiences into the classroom. Teachers of Tomorrow is the second most diverse certification program in the country with 46% non-white enrollment. In Addition, 70% of Teachers of Tomorrow teachers remain in the profession after five years, significantly higher than the national average of only 50%. Over the last 11 years, Teachers of Tomorrow has certified more than 50,000 new teachers, and in 2017 the Company trained and certified more than 6,000 teachers. An independent study revealed that Teachers of Tomorrow graduates see student achievement results equal to teachers coming through university programs. Teachers of Tomorrow is an approved teacher certification provider in Texas, Florida, Nevada, Indiana, South Carolina, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina.