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KSBA News Article

Beyond the Board

Beyond the Board

Austin Ferrell, Fulton Independent Schools

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2023

Q. You were elected to the board this past November. What have you learned about board service, and what has surprised you?

Board service is not what I expected, but in a good way. I knew board members made decisions for our schools and their betterment, but I’m learning the components that help make that happen, like relearning Robert’s Rules of Order, learning to look holistically at situations and be an advocate for students, but also the community stakeholders and teachers and school district staff. Being a person they can talk to and talk through issues with.

Q. You serve on the board of the district where you attended school. What is that like?

It gives me pride to serve the district and community that helped me grow and develop. I tell teachers and students all the time, my love is within this district. Fulton Independent has my heart.

Q. You’ve been a mathematics teacher in Mississippi and are in year four as a lecturer at University of Tennessee at Martin in the Department of Educational Studies. Why did you decide on a career in education?

I was dead set on being in the hard sciences, but my high school English teacher, Dan Dietrich, said, ‘Austin, I see you in a helping profession.’ I started college as a chemistry major but what he said resonated with me, and I switched to chemistry and education. I worked with Teach for America and got my teaching certification. Even in high school though, I was thinking about teaching. The future teachers group had left before I got to high school. I wanted to restart it and asked my teacher Kathy Thweatt if she would sponsor it. She did and we ended up with 30 to 40 members.

Q. You are coordinator of UT-Martin’s Call Me Mister program, which supports men who are pre-service teachers. Tell us about why it’s important to support men who want to work in the predominantly female field.

The program started in 2000 at Clemson University to combat the issue of not having male teachers of color, especially in K-5. UT-Martin is one of 13 institutions outside of South Carolina to have the program and the only one in Tennessee.

We have 14 gentlemen in the program. We just graduated our first five. The students commit to teaching in Tennessee for four years and the program helps pay their college expenses. I recently became coordinator. So now, in addition to serving as students’ primary on-campus resource and academic adviser, I also will recruit students, write grants and solicit other funding.

Q. Why is it so important to have men in these roles?

Research shows that the elementary grades are the most fundamental years for student development. Research also tells us having teachers of different backgrounds benefits students the most. About 2% of all teachers are teachers of color and male, so it is essential we move the needle forward by recruiting and retaining men of color.

Q. You have two masters in education, your principal certification and will defend your doctorate in education this summer. What is your ultimate career goal?

I don’t know, but I do want to remain in this field and help shape and model young adults. I still substitute in surrounding school districts and believe in continuing to perfect my craft. I want one more degree – focused on teaching mathematics. I believe in being a continual learner and that by taking what you have learned academically and through life and sharing it with others you can prevent others from making mistakes. My goal was to be done with school at 30; I’m pulling up on 28.

Getting to know
Lecturer of educational studies at the University of Tennessee at Martin

Hometown: Fulton, Kentucky

Family: Oldest of 10 children

Favorite subject: Mathematics      

Hobbies: Researching, relaxing and creating new art projects

Book recommendation: “Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change” by Stacey Abrams. This is an excellent book for leaders to enhance their knowledge about how to be a quality leader within an organization. Furthermore, this book discusses the significance of understanding one’s passion and using it as a driving factor to be an effective leader.

Interesting fact: I am a proud board member in the school district in which I attended, from kindergarten to high school graduation. This year marks 10 years since I graduated. This school district and all of the stakeholders are very near to my heart.

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