Julio Hernandez uses his experience from TechTeach to help his students.
Each year, Lubbock Independent School District searches among its schools and programs to find the Teacher of the Year. Nine finalists are selected from LISD's four feeder patterns and their alternative programs. The finalists are teachers who advocate for innovation in the classroom, encourage students to succeed and dedicate all of their efforts to their profession.
This year, Texas Tech University graduate Julio Hernandez was nominated as a finalist in the Lubbock High School feeder pattern. He is a Spanish teacher and coach at Hutchinson Middle School. Hernandez graduated in 2014 from the College of Education's first class of TechTeach teacher candidates.
Finding Texas Tech
Hernandez was raised in Merkel, a small town near Abilene. As a first-generation Texan, his first language was Spanish and he spent his school years as an English as a Second Language (ESL) student. From elementary to high school, he struggled with learning, specifically, passing the state reading assessments.
"Going into my 11th- and 12th-grade years of high school, something just clicked," Hernandez said. "I think it was more exposure to the language, reading simple things like sports articles. The biggest achievement for me in high school was passing the 11th-grade state reading assessment for the first time."
As Hernandez approached graduation, he started to think about college. He had always wanted to go to college, but since he would be the first in his family, he wasn't sure if the things he had heard about college, like it being expensive or difficult, were true.
"Coming from a family where, at first, we were in a one-bedroom, one-living room, half-bathroom trailer, you don't see much hope in being able to succeed in college," Hernandez said. "But I was very blessed to have several scholarships come in. I was very fortunate to have those and they made things possible for me."
When looking at colleges and universities, Hernandez's scholarships limited him to public institutions. All of the schools in nearby Abilene are private. In order to stay near family and attend a public institution, Hernandez found his future home at Texas Tech.
His next order of business was deciding what major to pursue. He remembered a single educator who had a significant impact on his high school experience: LeeAnn Tarpley, a home economics teacher at Merkel High School. She led Hernandez to want to pursue a career in education.
Experimenting with TechTeach
Hernandez came to Texas Tech and decided to earn his bachelor's degree in Spanish and a minor in secondary education. As he was wrapping up his major specific classes, his adviser approached him about a new program called TechTeach.
TechTeach is a clinically intensive, competency-based program designed to prepare teachers of kindergarten through 12th-grade students. The program is among the first in the nation to combine clinical experiences with opportunities to improve teaching behaviors. Hernandez was among the first cohort of students to complete the program.
"A phrase that was said a lot was " clinically intensive,'" Hernandez said. "That just means that you're in the classrooms a lot, you're interacting with students and you basically get to be the teacher before you actually become a teacher."
The TechTeach program prides itself on providing students with opportunities to be in the classroom during the early stages of their degree. The program recently received top marks from the National Council on Teacher Quality, placing it in the top 35 teacher education programs in the nation.
As Hernandez prepared for his classroom role through TechTeach, he worried students might not respect someone who is only a few years older than them. Through the help of mentor teachers, he gained confidence in the classroom and became more comfortable in his role and with the students.
"When I was student-teaching, we were in classrooms with 18- and 19-year olds, and I was only 21, so it's kind of hard sometimes to get that respect from students," Hernandez said. "I think a good thing that TechTeach does is to let the mentor teachers know that this is also a teacher in the classroom, so they're going to be called " co-teachers.'"
For Hernandez, TechTeach did much more than just encourage heavy involvement in the classroom. Teacher candidates experience a full year in a school setting, witnessing the beginning and end of the school year. Hernandez said those experiences are important to student-teaching because those periods are two very different atmospheres in a school.
The program also focuses on improving teacher behaviors to better educate students. Teacher candidates learn valuable skills such as managing students at the end of the week or at the end of each six-week period. From seating charts to lesson plans, teacher candidates get first-hand teaching experience from TechTeach.
"You learn how you should set up your classroom, what are some of the things that need to be included in lessons and things like that," Hernandez said. "A lot of it goes with the evaluation process you go through as a teacher. You have to incorporate all of those things, and I catch myself sometimes bringing in those lessons I learned while I was student-teaching."
Hernandez strongly recommends future teacher candidates to participate in the TechTeach program. He mentioned a unique aspect of the program is teacher candidates looking to be coaches also can observe and participate in coaching while student-teaching. Hernandez attributes his time with the TechTeach program to his success in coaching and teaching.
From TechTeach to Teacher of the Year nomination
Hernandez graduated from Texas Tech and earned his secondary education certification in 2014. His high school sweetheart, Jessica Hernandez, also participated in the TechTeach program as an elementary teacher candidate. She was a year behind him, and as graduation came around, Hernandez found himself searching for a school that would keep him in Lubbock while she finished her degree.
Through his search, Hernandez discovered Hutchinson Middle School, a school in the Lubbock High School feeder pattern. He immediately fell in love with the school. Even after his wife graduated from Texas Tech, the two made the decision to stay in Lubbock so Hernandez could continue teaching at Hutchinson Middle School. His wife, Jessica, found her place in Lubbock as a first-grade teacher at Lubbock Cooper Central Elementary.
Hernandez is in his fourth-year teaching at Hutchison Middle School. He teaches various levels of Spanish classes for sixth- and eighth-grade students. Hernandez also is a coach for the seventh- and eighth-grade boys at the school assisting with all sports, including football, basketball and track.
During the 2016-2017 school year, Hernandez's third year of teaching, he was nominated by his peers for the LISD Teacher of the Year. Out of LISD's four feeder patterns and alternative programs, 51 campus finalists were nominated. Hernandez was chosen as one of two finalists for the Lubbock High School feeder pattern and one of nine finalists for the award.
"I felt really loved by my students, my administration and my peers," Hernandez said. "I look up to several teachers here. To be nominated as Teacher of the Year is wonderful. I think that every teacher here deserves it; I think everyone here works hard."
As Hernandez continues at Hutchinson Middle School, he is always reminded of his roots with TechTeach. The program even found its place in his personal relationships. Being one of seven men going through the program, he grew very close with other teacher candidates going through the program.
"I'm still in touch with those guys," Hernandez said. "I know where they're at, I know the schools they teach at. I've been in two of their weddings and invited to several others. It's one of those things that you become best friends with your peers through the College of Education."