Teacher Receives Award for Reaching Young Reading Students
Samatha Morgan BA’07 celebrates with her Clifton Elementary students after receiving a $25,000 Milken Educator Award. She was the only award recipient in Texas.
The first thing Samatha Morgan BA’07 does to help her fifth-grade students become better readers has nothing to do with phonics or vocabulary: She makes sure they’re comfortable in her classroom.
The students can grab a book of their choice, a stuffed animal reading buddy and sit on pillows and rugs in Morgan’s classroom at Clifton Elementary School, which is near Waco. The inviting atmosphere helps students relax enough to learn, she said.
Morgan’s approach, which also includes interactive journals, playing games and acting out stories, has been a success. The UT Dallas alumna recently was honored with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation.
The foundation lauded Morgan, one of 40 recipients across the country and the only one in Texas, for her use of proven, cutting-edge strategies including iPad centers, student-led portfolios and graphs to chart progress. Many of her students have improved their reading two grade levels. More than 90 percent of her students have passed state reading accountability tests.
Morgan, who is from Houston, earned a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies and her teaching certificate through the Teacher Development Center in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas. She said that one of the biggest lessons she learned at UT Dallas was the importance of the relationship between the student and teacher.
“It is so rewarding to know that one of our own is out there making a difference in the lives of many children. Literacy education is indeed the backbone of student learning and success, and we need more highly qualified teacher leaders such as Samatha leading the charge.”
“The biggest thing was I always felt like I was valued by my teachers, my professors,” Morgan said. “Our classes were small, and my professors never hesitated to reach out to us. Every time we needed something, they were right there for us. I think that not being treated like I was just a number really made the biggest impact on me. That’s why I chose to go to UT Dallas.”
Morgan said making her classroom comfortable is part of her effort to build relationships with her students.
“The thing about reading, it’s all about relationships,” she said. “You have to be able to open up a book and fall in love with these make-believe characters.”
Michelle Weiner, a senior lecturer and University field supervisor, said that Morgan was an enthusiastic and focused student at UT Dallas.
“She was a hard worker, team player and was determined to save the world, one child at a time,” Weiner said. “I am very proud of her success in the classroom and for winning such a prestigious award. Her students are lucky to have such an outstanding educator in their corner.”
Dr. Angela McNulty, senior lecturer who teaches education courses in reading and language arts, said that the Teacher Development Center strives to give students the knowledge and skills to become effective classroom teachers.
“It is so rewarding to know that one of our own is out there making a difference in the lives of many children,” she said. “Literacy education is indeed the backbone of student learning and success, and we need more highly qualified teacher leaders such as Samatha leading the charge.”
The award came as a shock to Morgan, who is working toward a master’s in literacy curriculum at The University of Texas at Arlington. She had been diagnosed with bronchitis the day before a surprise announcement was scheduled at her school. “I asked my principal if there was any way I could stay home, and they said no. I was a little confused by that.”
In the gym the morning of the assembly, Morgan started coughing, so she didn’t hear her name being called. A fellow teacher nudged her.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Morgan, who said she was thrilled about the honor. “I’m still not 100 percent convinced it happened.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].