We are pleased to highlight Noyce alumni who are making a difference in high-need schools. If you would like to recommend an alumni from a Noyce program, please contact Betty Calinger, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introducing Erica Valdez, Del Valle Opportunity Center, Del Valle ISD, Del Valle, TX
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study:
Subject area(s) and grade level teaching focus:
High School Biology
Noyce Scholar, 2009-2013
St. Edward’s University, Austin TX
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Bilingual End-of-Course (EOC) Biology; Biology Credit Recovery
Del Valle Opportunity Center, Del Valle ISD, Del Valle, TX
Provide a little background information or describe something that set you on the path to teaching:
When I began college, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science and set my sights on medical school. At the end of my freshman year, I had the opportunity to apply for the Noyce Teaching Scholarship. I had never considered teaching as a career but was excited by the prospect of having my tuition paid. Within months of being accepted, I was enrolled in education courses and assisting in a 7th grade life science class. This first experience on the other side of education made me realize how much I could enjoy being an educator. Ultimately, my goal was to pursue a career in which I could serve my community and be a positive force for change. Teaching has not only fulfilled these objectives but continues to be a source of inspiration for my future goals in the education field.
Describe your current teaching assignment:
I am in my 4th year at the Del Valle Opportunity Center, a public alternative school that provides a self-paced learning environment with small student-teacher ratios. Del Valle is a developing community 10 minutes east of Austin, TX with one primary high school. Students who fall behind in their credits or are at risk of not graduating are given the option to come to the Opportunity Center where they can receive a more fluid, individualized, and differentiated learning experience. The majority of our students are people of color and are economically disadvantaged. Roughly a third of our population are English Language Learners (ELL) so I also teach bilingually. I am passionate about teaching this demographic because I find great reward in helping students who have been judged and misunderstood their entire lives. It is a privilege and a point of pride to serve at a school that does everything possible to not only help students earn their diploma but also teach them to see that they are intelligent, capable, and worthy.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
From the beginning, the Noyce program at St. Edward’s University provided me with formal and informal hands-on teaching experiences. In addition to the pre-service classroom experience, I participated in summer camps where we teamed with a local high school to take students on a wetlands ecology field trip on the Texas coast and lead mini-lessons. A part of the Noyce program that I believe was the most impactful was our STEM teacher circles. Former Noyce scholars, pre-service students, professors, local STEM educators and professionals met monthly to present useful strategies and resources, as well as provide emotional support during our first few years of teaching. I also received individualized help with planning and building lessons. My Noyce mentors made multiple observations of my classroom, providing constructive feedback and tangible resources related to content and classroom management. I also attended NSTA conferences.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I carry the things that I learned from Noyce into class every day. Regarding content, I am constantly looking for new and exciting ways to engage my students in their work. Noyce has instilled in me a desire to share my love of science with my students and to inspire them to (at the very least) develop an appreciation and understanding of the natural world. Arguably my purpose as an End-of-Course (EOC) teacher is to help students pass their exam, however, I aim to help my students achieve beyond just passing the test. Noyce has also taught me to routinely reflect on my teaching practices and the way I present myself to my students. This is particularly important for Del Valle’s particular demographic since socio-emotional development is a crucial part of supporting high-need students.
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role:
Over the past year, I have been feeling confident enough in my pedagogy to begin taking on new responsibilities and exploring my future in education. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, I accepted the position as Science Department Chair for my campus. While I have experienced some growing pains and challenges taking on this new leadership role, it has been extremely motivating. In addition, the Noyce program at St. Edward’s gave me the opportunity to write a mini-grant so that I could explore avenues in education that interest me most. Because of my experience with standardized testing and accountability practices as an EOC teacher, I began to wonder about the intricacies of education policies and policy-making. I have seen the multitude of ways in which standardized testing affects achievement in impoverished students, students of color, and English Language Learners. With support from the mini-grant, I investigated how education policy is made and who are the stakeholders. I attended an education finance and policy conference, took online graduate courses, received numerous text resources, and met Dr. Angela Valenzuela, a leader in educational equity and policy in Texas. I also was able to share my experiences in a workshop at the 2018 Noyce Summit in Washington, DC. These experiences helped me to more clearly visualize my options for continuing my education; I plan to pursue a Master’s degree in Education Policy in the coming year.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching:
I was very anxious about my first year of teaching because I had been told that it would be the most difficult. I truly feel that it was one of the best I have had so far. Apart from the welcoming and supportive environment of the Opportunity Center, I felt confident that I was prepared for my first year. I also had a team of people through the Noyce program to help me, whether in terms of content and lesson planning support or talking through the emotions of working in a high-need school. I was named Teacher of the Month in October of my first year of teaching, and was awarded Teacher of the Year for my campus later that Spring. I attribute this incredible success not only to the amount of preparation and support I received in my education classes at St. Edward’s, but particularly to the community and resources available to me through the Noyce Program.