Anna Barrett is a first-year teacher at Founders Classical Academy of Lewisville, Texas. You wouldn’t know it by her poise, but just a year ago, she was still attending class at Baylor University, wondering how to make her teaching dreams a reality. “I wanted to teach from the time I entered the Honors College at Baylor, but the program doesn’t offer education classes. The day I went in to change my major, my adviser suggested that a background in great books would actually make me a strong teacher in a classical school,” she said. With the clock ticking on her senior year, she took note of an email from the college about a program called the Founders Teacher Initiative (FTI). It had been set up a few months earlier for the specific purpose of finding people just like her—liberal arts majors with a passion for education and civic responsibility. “I had no idea what FTI was all about, but I thought I’d check into it to see what it had to offer,” Mrs. Barrett said. At an information meeting, she discovered a route into the classroom that would require training, but not certification. Mike Terry, who launched FTI in 2015 with the help of program director Loammi Caros, explained that Mrs. Barrett already had the most important things required to teach: deep content knowledge and an interest in building character in her students. She just needed the basic training needed to run a classroom. “The idea is that there are thousands of people out there who would make great teachers, but find this certification barrier in front of them. Anna is a great example. She has an honors degree in English Language Arts from a Tier One university. She knows literature, and she has a heart for students. She’s exactly the right person to teach in a classical school,” Mr. Terry said. Mrs. Barrett applied for the free program, and just weeks of graduating and getting married, she found herself among the inaugural cohort. After spending two weeks being trained in teaching theory and methodology at FTI’s summer institute at the University of Dallas, she was ready for the classroom. FTI is a creation of ResponsiveEd, a charter school operator based in Lewisville. The company operates 75 schools across Texas and Arkansas and serves more than 21,000 students. Enrollment at ResponsiveEd’s schools has more than doubled in the last ten years. Much of that growth has occurred in its line of classical schools, including Founders Classical Academy in Lewisville. The K-12 academy was launched in 2012 in partnership with Hillsdale College and serves about 900 students. “At all of our schools, we want our students to understand what it means to be human and how to be a responsible citizen. We share the founding fathers’ view that maintaining a free society depends on knowledge and virtue. These ideas are tied together, and FTI was created to find and prepare educators to teach in this environment,” said Mr. Terry, who also leads student recruiting and communications at ResponsiveEd. FTI’s cohort members are now teaching at seven schools in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Tyler.
Houston Baptist University (HBU) alumnus Andrew Jimenez is another member of FTI’s first cohort. He teaches sixth graders at The Woodlands Classical Academy just north of Houston. Mr. Jimenez earned a psychology degree with a minor in writing from HBU’s honor college, but because of the university’s focus on great texts, he is prepared to teach literature at the school. “My education at HBU and my training at FTI have been essential to my growth as a teacher. By reading, writing about and discussing the great works of Western civilization in HBU’s Honors College, I was exposed to the classical model of education and learned how to better consider and discuss the virtues,” Mr. Jimenez said. His school features a new virtue each month, which he incorporates into his lessons. “Usually, I will point out a particular character and his actions and will have a conversation with my students about how that character shows or lacks that virtue. Sometimes, students beat me to the questions. I love to see when they initiate the conversation about virtue because it means it’s already on their minds,” he said. FTI has started recruiting for its second cohort. For more information about applying, see their website at www.americanteacher.co.