Camila Escobar Fuller never imagined being a teacher when she was growing up in Columbia.
Now, though, she’s an award-winning educator.
Fuller, a Heights resident in her second year of teaching at Love Elementary, recently was honored as one of the top three winners of the Texas Alternative Certification Association’s Intern of the Year Award. She received her teaching certification through the Harris County Department of Education.
“The thought of spending my days as a kindergarten teacher was an unfathomable idea because my dream was to be the secretary general for the U.N,” Fuller wrote in an essay for the competition. “As a result, I chose to major in political science and religious studies. I was very interested in activism and doing the best I could to defend human rights.”
Fuller, who spent her senior year of high school at a Humble ISD school, attended the Honors College at the University of Houston. During college, she worked with nonprofit SEWA international, which runs an education center in a Bellaire-area apartment complex populated primarily by refugees.
Fuller helped students with their homework and on Saturdays assisted with a soccer camp at the local elementary school. Tutoring a middle school student who was illiterate in English as well as his native language changed the course of her career.
“Tutoring him and designing the ESL (English as a second language) curriculum for the program truly opened my eyes,” Fuller wrote. “It became very clear to me that education is the only equalizer for these students who lack socioeconomic resources. I could make a difference in real time by being a teacher rather than trying to become part of the bureaucracy.”
After college, Fuller started working with autistic children at Spectrum of Hope in Cypress while she pursued an alternative certification program. Fuller first looked at the programs that were solely online, but after what she described as a lack of customer service with the registration process, she changed course and went with the Harris County Department of Education.
She said she liked that classroom time would be supplemented by online learning.
“I wanted contact with veteran teachers,” Fuller said. “I remember first year I asked my instructor, who was also a principal, if I could show her my lesson plan. The face to face was so helpful.”
It took Fuller a year-and-a-half to get certified, and she passed her test close to the start of the 2018-19 school year. A great interview with Love principal Melba Heredia Johnson got her into a kindergarten classroom last year. During her first year, Fuller leaned on the support of her mentors at the HCDE.
“(Teaching) is very overwhelming,” Fuller said. “You get paid for the hours of teaching, but not all the planning that goes into it. None of (the regular school day) is getting ready, with materials, and lesson planning. If you’re not prepared, you won’t be a good teacher. There’s not enough hours in the day to get ready for the next day.”
A monthly seminar class called Communities of Practice for first-year teachers was particularly helpful to Fuller.
“They offered resources for real-world issues,” Fuller said, “things like self-care and how to talk to parents.”
After Fuller’s internship year, in which she also was the teacher of record, a field supervisor who had been observing her in the classroom recommended her to be certified. Fuller said she enjoys her role in a dual-language classroom where she teaches all subjects. A Spanish-speaking student is paired with an English-speaking one to facilitate language acquisition.
“The single best thing I can do to help a child’s success is to teach them how to read well,” Fuller said. “I have kids who are now reading on a second-grade level.”
Fuller now wants to get a master’s degree in in education.
“I really want to be a success in this field, and feel that so many things can be improved,” she said.
HCDE program director Lidia Zatopek said the department is recruiting applicants for a new group of potential teachers. The program starts Oct. 1. There are several information sessions to learn about the program and admission process.
For 12 years, HCDE’s teacher educator program has provided teacher training to college grads and second career seekers. The Educator Certification and Advancement division also trains and prepares principals and superintendents for certification.
“For the past seven years, our program has reported a 99-percent pass rate for students completing course and taking the certification exams,” Zatopek said.
Fuller also is nominated for the National Association for Alternative Certification’s 2020 Outstanding New Teacher Award to be announced in December. She has a campaign on DonorsChoose.org to purchase two tablets for her students to engage in independent reading and practice literacy skills.
For more information on HCDE’s teacher certification, visit www.hcde-texas.org/teach-and-lead. For Fuller’s campaign, visit www.donorschoose.org and search for Love Elementary in Houston.