A husband and wife are graduating from the College of Education, culminating an 11-year journey they started together in high school.
When Justine and Preston Teters walk to the graduation stage at Friday's (Aug. 9) teacher induction ceremony, it will be far from their first trip down the aisle together.
They first made a stroll to "Pomp and Circumstance" together as high schoolers. A couple years later, they walked down the wedding aisle together as husband and wife. A few years after that, they walked the graduation stage having completed their Associate of Arts in Teaching at the same community college.
"Now we're going to be able to finally walk the stage for our bachelor's degree in teaching together," said Preston, who will place honorary cords around his wife's neck at the ceremony and receive the same from her.
"It's kind of the culmination of our journey together."
It was a journey that began 11 years ago at a San Antonio high school and went down a non-traditional path. Then 15-year-old sophomores at Douglas MacArthur High School, they met in a college readiness program and soon began dating.
After graduating together in 2011, the pair wanted to go to college but realized they could not afford it. Preston instead joined the U.S. Army, and he was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Justine waited for him in San Antonio, working at a Subway and taking a few classes at a local community college. They had married in 2012, while Preston was on a break from Army training.
When he returned to the states in 2015, the young couple had a decision to make: Make an Army career their life? Or head back to San Antonio and figure out a new path?
The Teters decided on San Antonio and stayed with Justine's parents. That's where everything clicked. Justine had always wanted to teach, a dream inspired by a former teacher who had supported her as a quiet first-grade student and showed her learning could be fun.
Preston realized teaching was his calling after spending time with Justine's younger brother and sister and joining the parent-teacher association at their elementary school.
"The reason I joined the military was to help people," Preston said. "I feel I get to accomplish that even more so in education; It's where I need to be."
'Not for the faint of heart'
The Teters enrolled in at Northeast Lakeview College in San Antonio and through an advisor learned about TechTeach Across Texas, an accelerated teacher preparation program at Texas Tech University.
The "grow your own" program partners with community colleges and school districts around the state to prepare locals with associate degrees to be teachers in their own community schools. Students spend the yearlong program embedded on a school campus, where they complete a full academic year as a teacher intern and receive coaching from mentor teachers and Texas Tech faculty.
The couple remembered feeling intimidated but excited about the prospect of making up for lost time by completing a bachelor's degree and earning a teaching certificate in just one year.
"This is not for the faint of heart," the couple recalled the advisor, Michele Hicks, saying.
They would have to give their full attention to the program. That meant neither of them would be able to work, raising the question of how they would pay tuition. But with the help of GI Bill benefits and the assistance of Hicks in finding other financial aid, the couple was able to make it work.
They raced through their associate degrees in one year and started TechTeach Across Texas in the fall of 2018.
Preston spent the fall semester of the program interning in a fourth-grade classroom in Olmos Elementary in North East Independent School District (ISD) in San Antonio. In the spring, he practiced in a fifth-grade science classroom at the same school.
As a tall ex-military man and one of just two male teachers in the high-poverty school, Preston quickly became a person many male students could look to as a role model. He was happy to offer advice and support.
"I grew up in San Antonio, and there's a lot of kids there that didn't have a role model," Preston said. "They didn't have someone to turn to, someone to care for them."
The TechTeach placements led to permanent jobs. Preston accepted a job offer to return to Olmos Elementary to teach fifth-grade science. After completing her internship at Walzem Elementary, also in North East ISD, Justine also accepted a job offer from the school district.
"We both used our school placements as a one-year interview," Preston said. "It was an opportunity to show these schools what we were made of."
The couple also said the yearlong experience has made them feel like they are starting their permanent positions as second-year teachers. Preston will even see the same fourth-grade students who were in his classroom the year before, now as fifth graders.
"The program was worth it by far," Justine said. "The most amazing experience you get out of this program is seeing the 'behind the scenes' of what the teacher does before and after school to prepare."
Many teacher preparation programs in Texas only require the state minimum of 14 weeks of student teaching. In TechTeach Across Texas, that experience is expanded to about 40 weeks, with teacher candidates starting during back-to-school professional development and not finishing until the end of summer school.
"Nothing was sugar coated," Preston said. "We were there for the staff development. We were there for the faculty meetings. We were there for everything."
Graduating with style
Because he earned the highest GPA of any of the 134 teacher candidates graduating from the College of Education this summer, Preston will bear the college's banner Saturday at Texas Tech's commencement ceremony.
"Not only did they complete the TechTeach Across Texas program, but they did it with style," said Hicks, the advisor who helped launch their journey. "Both are graduating with honors and have been shining stars during the year with us. I love seeing our non-traditional students have the opportunity to reach their goals through this program. They will bring so much enrichment to the classroom through their life experiences, and it's going to be fabulous to see them start their careers together."
Justine said she eventually wants to get into counseling, specifically providing comprehensive emotional, social, behavioral and academic support for high schoolers. Preston is interested in pursuing a principal certification one day.
"It's an amazing, kind-of-nervous feeling," Justine said of their approaching graduation. "We're really excited for this new beginning."