Photo courtesy of Gloria Houston.
SkillsUSA 2021 Advisor of the Year Gloria Houston has a passion for teaching because, as she puts it, “you can make a difference.” A healthcare instructor at New Madrid County (Mo.) Technical Skills Center, Houston enjoys watching her students become great nurses, therapists and healthcare professionals. She says, “when you help a student find what they are passionate about and watch them excel in it, absolutely nothing compares.”
An educator with a passion for helping students develop their unique talents, Houston builds her programming around SkillsUSA’s Framework of personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics. In her classroom, the goal is for all students to become career ready and develop a mindset to succeed, and her experience through the organization has led to some powerful insights on how to accomplish that. “I would say SkillsUSA has totally changed the way I teach,” she says. “Through SkillsUSA, we set our students up to be miles ahead of adults applying for jobs. My students develop integrity by being held accountable.”
Many of Houston’s students come from poverty. Houston understands their daily struggles because she lived them herself as a teen. “Raised by a single mom, we were very poor, and all I wanted to do was to finish school and go to work.” Those early experiences inform the compassion Houston has for her students, and her ability to form bonds with them early in the year are important keys to her success as an instructor. “I work on building relationships at the start of school,” she says, noting that once a relationship is created between student and teacher, the student will work harder. “I see students who have struggled their entire life trying to figure out where they fit in. Then I watch them teach a peer about the SkillsUSA Framework, and, as they help that other student get it, I watch them understand better. And that’s when they realize that they get it.”
New Madrid principal Justin Poley says of Houston, “When she sees a challenge, she goes after it. She’s an amazing teacher and an amazing person. She builds a relationship with every single student she has, and even with some students she doesn’t teach. She helps students find where they belong.”
While she got involved in SkillsUSA for the benefit of her students, SkillsUSA has been a win for Houston, too. “SkillsUSA has truly made me a better instructor. It’s given me access to students who might not normally be in my room. I ask them what they are doing, and I invite them into my program or into SkillsUSA. This in turn improves our CTE [career and technical education] numbers, and our enrollment is growing. It has affected our school and our community, too. We are constantly in the newspaper or on social media where potential employers and supporters see us.”
Setting the Standard
What makes a student’s school-to-career experience seamless, and how does a teacher help make that happen? “When you set up your classroom to industry standards, that’s what reinforces the learning. Then when they go out into the workforce, they understand and are ready.”
In Houston’s SkillsUSA program, students advance more rapidly in their skills because they’re encouraged to take the lead. “I assign committees for everything that we do. Students who are not elected officers still get the ability to lead a group and practice their skills, provide agendas or take minutes. Students want to have the ownership of the work and to be held accountable. I ask a lot of open-ended questions. They often solve any problem for themselves that way.”
Houston’s program has an important role for partners and other stakeholders, too. “I have an advisory board that includes administration and marketing professionals. I get the stakeholders really invested early in the year. That way they meet the students, and we do a lot of mock interviews. By building these partnerships early, when you are doing other things later in the year like community service, the stakeholders are already invested and willing to help.” Houston shares that a student of hers worked in “clinicals” (the term healthcare workers use to describe a series of supervised interactions with patients) in a local healthcare facility. The student was hired at the facility because the two advisory board members who supervised her felt confident she could do the job after seeing her skills in action. “It was a win for both my student and the company,” Houston says.
Finding a Passion and a Purpose
Houston loves being an educator because she enjoys seeing students find themselves and their purpose. Students often find their passion not just in a career program, but through their community service projects, where they can focus more on others than on their own challenges. “This is where change takes place,” she says.
Sometimes the students themselves are the beneficiaries of those service efforts. “I just gave cars away to two students who got good jobs but needed transportation. Strangers stepped up to help and got them vehicles.” Houston and her school also established “The Eagle Closet,” a program where clothing is collected and offered at no charge to those who need things to wear. Students even have laundry services available at school to wash uniforms. “Yes, we do laundry here,” Houston says. “It’s real life in my classroom, and that includes having a clean uniform. This is made possible by our culinary arts teacher and her students. They volunteered to do the laundry. It is due to partnerships like this that we can make a difference.”
Former students describe Houston as an amazing person who is always there for them.“She is one of the kindest, most giving, generous people I have ever met,” says former student Amelia Lambert. Graduate Deanna Hart shares these honest thoughts: “I love her. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” And local SkillsUSA district officer Trinitie Walker says, “She has made it her mission to help others around her who are in need. If you were to ask anyone, her peers and colleagues all recognize her as an angel.”
Let Your Students Amaze You
Houston is so passionate about teaching through SkillsUSA because she has seen the program change the trajectory of so many lives. “CTE and SkillsUSA are for everyone, whether they are college-bound or going straight to work. These programs are high-tech and sophisticated. They are not your old mom and pop vo-tech shop class anymore.”
Houston has developed those high-tech skills throughout her own career. She has a master’s degree in career and technical education leadership and administration and has been a registered nurse for over 20 years. In addition to teaching, she still works as a nurse to keep those crucial technical skills sharp and up to date. During 11 years of teaching, Houston has won numerous awards in her community and state, including Educator of the Year, Home Health Nurse of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and Woman of the Year. But she is quick to point out that these accolades would not be possible without the support of her family, coworkers and other community helpers. “It is definitely a team effort!” says Houston. When she speaks of her husband, three grown children and two granddaughters, Houston says the whole family often joins in efforts to serve others. “Honestly, our whole life is about service, and we love doing things together for our community or the school.”
Houston likes for her students to shine, but they seem to be reflecting the very brightness of life and all the possibilities that this instructor projects on them. Houston is quick to shrug off any praise by saying, “We all have a gift to use. Every day I look for someone who needs my gift. This world is hurting, and there are a lot of kids out there who need you. Your students can amaze you — and they will amaze themselves, too!”
Houston was recognized nationally as the 2021 SkillsUSA Advisor of the Year, an award that recognizes our most dedicated instructors. Each state selects one winner and then five regional winners are selected. These top five then compete for Advisor of the Year through their application process and personal interviews. Learn more about this year’s top advisors here: www.skillsusa.org/membership-resources/awards/.