Shape the future with teaching careers for a diverse population
We know that our teaching candidates will impact many students’ lives, so we prepare them with the latest information and technology for elementary and secondary school instruction. Along with teaching degrees, SFA students can earn certifications to help students with disabilities and students who speak English as a second language.
With an SFA education serving as their foundation, we are proud of our alumni who have made a significant impact in their field.
Lori Wendt, Class of '89
First grad teacher, Allen Independent School District; educational content writer, PBS
Lori Wendt had just graduated with an elementary education degree from SFA when she had an opportunity to work with Sheryl Leach, the creator of “Barney & Friends,” a series of home videos that became a hit television series nominated for 15 Emmy Awards. But she was excited to get in the classroom, so she declined the offer and accepted a job teaching first grade in Lewisville.
Lori subsequently earned a master’s degree and, eight years later, accepted the second offer from Leach to work on the show. It was a major transition for Lori, who had never been on a television set. Fortunately, her training at SFA was a valuable asset in the career shift.
“The opportunities the students have to work in the Early Childhood Laboratory and in the SFA Charter School classrooms, in addition to student teaching, are major factors in their success,” Lori said. “Reading about and studying different classroom methodologies is important, but there’s nothing that can take the place of being face-to-face with a child.”
Justin Kirk, Class of '19
Deaf education teacher, Lufkin High School; Children's author
Inspired by the “Blue Planet” documentary series, Justin Kirk wrote his first children’s book called “Ramón the Remora” in 2019, so young children could learn about marine life. The first of a series, the book follows the adventures of Ramón and his ocean friends.
“I want all of my books to be education-focused by having at least 10 facts throughout the story, while still being engaging for the reader,” said Justin, the deaf education teacher at Lufkin High School and sponsor for the sign club. “Being an educator of students who are deaf, it is important for me to give access to my students as well. I will have my children’s books interpreted in American Sign Language by someone of the deaf community."
Sydney Brookshire, Class of '13
District media coordinator and English teacher, Center Independent School District
Sydney Brookshire, Center Independent School District media coordinator and high school English teacher at Center High School, led her students to a Top Journalism Team title in their district. “This validates the work we do in the classroom and the efforts of our amazing UIL program,” she said.
A 2013 graduate of SFA, Sydney said her favorite part of teaching is often the events that take place outside the classroom. “I love being in the classroom, but UIL trips, banquets and other activities allow teachers and students to build relationships, which is essential for learning to take place.”
Haleigh Barber, Class of ’16
Second Grade Teacher, Harry McKillop Elementary School
“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of being a teacher,” Haleigh said. “Growing up, I idolized my teachers and couldn’t wait to change lives the same way they changed mine.”
Haleigh said she really hadn’t considered attending SFA – but after she made a visit to the campus, she was sold. Now, she says SFA was the best decision she ever made. Not only did she have professors who poured knowledge into her, but she also benefited from mentors at the SFA Charter School, specifically Casey Watts. Her professors and mentors made her the teacher she is today. Their ultimate goal was to help her flourish as a teacher, but they also helped her flourish as a person.
“Students must Maslow before they can Bloom,” is one of Haleigh’s favorite quotes. “Simply put, it means we must attend to our students’ basic needs before learning can happen. These needs include making them feel safe, respected, valued and loved. That is why I do what I do. I want children to know I am their biggest cheerleader. I will be there in their highest highs and lowest lows. Learning happens when there is trust. That is the beauty of education.”
Janet Hardage, Class of ’07
Bilingual Interventionist, Celina Elementary School
Growing up in Honduras, Janet began speaking Spanish at an early age. The daughter of missionaries, she didn’t attend school in the United States until her arrival at SFA. Janet always knew she wanted to be a teacher and was aware SFA offered one of the top teacher preparation programs in the country. She graduated from the university in 2007 with a double major in interdisciplinary studies and Spanish.
Her choice of majors has served her well in her profession. Janet works as a bilingual interventionist at a Title 1 school in north Texas with at-risk students – many immigrated to the U.S. from Central America. Janet says her childhood in Honduras and her SFA education provided the foundation she needs to help her students learn and grow.
“My first priority is to ensure my students feel loved,” Janet said. “I understand the difficulties they face, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to impact their lives in a positive way.”
Shannon Lee, Class of ’89, ’91 and ’01
Reading Interventionist and Dyslexia Specialist and Coordinator, Pre-K through Fifth Grade, West Sabine Elementary School
Shannon, a three-time SFA graduate, is a recognized leader in her field. In 2019, the Beaumont Foundation of America honored her with the Gilbert I. “Buddy” Low Excellence in Education Award, which celebrates and recognizes the superior leadership contributions of teachers dedicated to inspiring a spirit of learning.
“I want to inspire my students to make personal connections to the lessons in order for them to succeed. Teaching gives me the opportunity to prepare my students for college and their future careers,” Shannon said. “I am dedicated to the teaching profession, and I want to make a difference in the lives of my students.”
Shannon studied in SFA’s reading specialist graduate program, which she said, “made a world of difference in my life.”
“The instruction I received from my SFA professors has given me greater insight into literacy and how it plays a critical part in the lives of all students. It has made a difference in how I teach and address my students’ needs.”