Each month, we highlight an educator who has earned the designation of ‘Master Teacher’ through Texas’ Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA). TIA encourages school districts to locally develop multi-measure evaluation systems to reward and retain their most effective teachers. Those earning the ‘Master Teacher’ designation rank in the top 5% of educators in the entire state!
Serving in the Americorps and later the U.S. Peace Corps helped lead Zach Chan to a teaching career where he earned TEA’s Master teacher designation. Now he has the opportunity to be a true "change-maker" in students' lives – while earning nearly six figures.
Read Mr. Chan’s Q&A below.
Tell us a little about your life and career journey.
I was born and raised in Florida by a multicultural family in a diverse neighborhood outside Orlando. Because of my diverse background, I had to learn how to navigate many communities and work with people with different life experiences. I have always enjoyed helping others and have used that penchant for service to guide me to be an educator!
Why did you get into education?
After graduating from college, I wasn't sure where life would lead me, but I did know that I wanted to help people. I joined the Americorps and later the U.S. Peace Corps and had wonderful experiences teaching in both Miami, Florida, and Paraguay in South America. It was in these early stages of my career that I realized I could be a true "change-maker" in students' lives, and I knew I wanted to be an educator.
How has being recognized and rewarded as a master teacher impacted your life?
Being a teacher can often be a thankless job, and being recognized and rewarded as a master teacher has been a validation of all the hard work and time that it takes to "go the extra mile."
What is a classroom experience or specific student that has stuck with you?
In my first year of teaching, I had a student that struggled in class and had an extremely negative association with school. At first, working with him was very challenging, but as the year progressed and as we got to know each other more, the student really opened up! He went on to improve significantly in the classroom and had changed his outlook on school - and life - by the end of his 3rd-grade year. This all culminated when his caretaker wrote one of the most impactful letters of my life, stating, "you are the reason my boy has turned his life around." I will never forget that student, and is one of the main reasons I am a teacher today.
What is your advice to someone interested in becoming a high-performing educator?
I would advise that it is mostly a factor of two things: hard work and proper prioritization.
A lot of the work we do as educators is complex, nuanced, and ever-changing, so this requires a lot of thought and care in the planning and instructing that we do as teachers. Going with this, though, is the notion that we must prioritize correctly, as teachers are often pulled in many different directions, often with very little guidance on which direction is best.
I would advise, above all else, that you prioritize your students first! We often hear catchphrases of "student-centered" or "students first," but we, unfortunately, don't see that in practice as much as we should. High-performing teachers know what's best for their students because they base their decisions on their students' needs above others.