Home Minnesota Educator 2023 Teacher of the Year Houston centers community, connection, fun in his classroom

2023 Teacher of the Year Houston centers community, connection, fun in his classroom

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Michael Houston’s teaching philosophy has always been centered upon creating classroom community, and in light of the recent pandemic and the ongoing trauma his students have endured, Houston’s daily goal is to also have fun with and love on his kids.

Houston was named the 2023 Minnesota Teacher of the Year in early May—his second time as a finalist for the award. He now becomes our National Teacher of the Year nominee in 2024.

“In my classroom, my teaching style includes incorporating humor and making relevant connections to life experiences and lessons that I have learned over the years,” said Houston in his nomination materials for the award. “These experiences include my own personal experiences through my upbringing, academic and athletic pursuits and adulthood. Whether it’s applying mathematical concepts outside of the classroom, or just having the confidence to navigate the world, being open with my students allows me to develop that necessary trust in order to have the greatest impact.”

Houston is a mathematics teacher at Harding High School in the St. Paul Public School District, where he teaches Algebra II and Intermediate Algebra.

Raised in a single-parent household by his mother with help from his grandparents, Houston was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University, St. Paul and a master’s degree from Hamline University. Houston also works as adjunct professor at Concordia, teaching math classes to prospective elementary teachers. He will become an adjunct professor at Augsburg University this fall.

Houston’s 19-year career at Harding includes 18 years as a football coach—10 of which he was head coach. At Harding, Houston is the mathematics department chair, a learning team facilitator and union steward.

“Michael is passionate about his students and works tirelessly to engage them in the study of mathematics,” wrote Kimberley Nichols, a Gordon Parks High School math teacher who previously worked with Houston at Harding and served with him on the SPPS district mathematics team. “His ability to engage all students, particularly students of color, is exceptional; partly due to his lived experiences as a teacher of color and to his determination to help all students achieve success. He meets students where they are, and inspires them to learn deeply. His passion and dedication to equity and culturally responsive instruction has made a tremendous difference in the lives of the students he works with every single day.”

Houston said during his recognition year he hopes to center attention and advocacy on two issues—mental health and increasing access to relevant and culturally significant curriculum.

“The impact of the pandemic shed light on the importance of mental health support in our society,” he said in his award portfolio essay. “I consider myself lucky to have had the resources to be able to address my own mental health issues; resources that the majority of our students in public education do not.”

Houston also knows that it is important to recognize that our students need the requisite skill set and confidence to be able to meet the challenges and demands of the world.

“We as educators need to create curriculum that will serve them throughout their adult lives,” he said. “Over the past two years, I have noticed an increase in engagement with students. Can you believe many of them didn’t know what a down payment was? Addressing topics such as learning to buy a house, filing taxes and investing has opened a new world of opportunities and professions that they would have never learned about otherwise.”

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