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Urban Education graduate returns to his childhood elementary school as teacher - with statewide student teaching award

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 / UHD Public Affairs

Good news comes in threes for recent University of Houston-Downtown Urban Education graduate John Wolf.

He earned his university degree, landed a dream job teaching at the same elementary school he attended as a boy and received the Texas Student Teacher of the Year Award – all within a few weeks.

“To me, this award isn’t because I’m so great, it’s because my professors are so great,” Wolf said. “They teach in such a way that you cannot walk out of there not being a good teacher.” Wolf is back in class at his alma mater, Berry Elementary school in the Houston Independent School District. Now, however, he is the Pre-K through fifth-grade science teacher in the environmental magnet school.

In his final semester at UHD, spring 2010, Wolf completed his student teaching at Carmichael Elementary in the Aldine ISD. “In 50 years working in education, I have not seen another so perfectly suited for his role as educator in the classroom,” said Wolf's supervisor at UHD, Alice Ott. “I wish John had taught my two sons."

Jane Thielemann-Downs, associate professor in Urban Education, said: "I found him to be a very caring teacher with a sincere devotion to improving the academic achievement of all of his students.”

Wolf will be recognized and presented with the Texas Student Teacher of the Year Award from the Texas Directors of Field Experiences in October. The presentation will be part of the annual Consortium of State Organizations for Texas Teacher Education Conference.

Myrna Cohen, chair of the Department of Urban Education, said Wolf’s statewide award is an honor to the entire department.

“John represents the high quality of all the teacher candidates in our program,” Cohen said. “We know that John and his fellow graduates will be assets to their schools and districts and will make a huge difference in the lives of their future students.”

Already, Wolf is busy at Berry Elementary. He spends summer mornings teaching English as a second language to young students. In the afternoons, he works on the school’s website, another responsibility taken on because of his UHD training, he said. He also checks on his school’s science nature trail project.

“It is so awesome, because I walk around campus and can see myself as a little kid, running and playing on the playground,” Wolf said. “I walk around the corner sometimes and wonder if I’ll see Miss Baker, the third-grade teacher I loved so much. I had a stuttering problem when I would read, and she helped me overcome that.”

While Miss Baker has long since left Berry Elementary, Wolf continues to find inspiration in her teaching philosophy.

“You have to care about learning and about doing more and doing better,” he said. “With my kids, I’m always trying to instill in them a passion for learning more.”
Graduating from college was a challenge for Wolf, and it took two attempts to earn his teaching degree. From 2003 to 2008, he worked a night job driving truck between Houston and Austin and Houston and San Antonio, squeezing in a 20-minute nap before classes each morning.

When he began his teacher training at UHD, he realized he needed more focus, so he began working part time and volunteering at assigned schools. During this time, both parents suffered health problems, and Wolf said his professors encouraged him to keep up his efforts, which have paid off threefold.

Contact UHD Public Affairs at 713-221-8010 or

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