Growing up in her hometown of Central City, Nebraska — population 3,024 — Morgan Twiss remembers nearly always wanting to be a teacher, and after she graduates May 20 as a member of the inaugural cohort of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Teacher Scholars Academy, she’ll begin her career at Elliott Elementary in Lincoln, where she’ll teach second grade.
Twiss was a senior in high school and had a job at a local child care center when she learned about the new Teacher Scholars Academy from a friend. It sounded like a great opportunity with a substantial scholarship benefit, but attending UNL felt somewhat daunting.
“In high school, UNL seemed really big. My dad went here, so I thought, ‘I’m going to visit and see what happens,’” Twiss said. “I fell in love with the opportunities it had to offer, and Greek life was a big pull.
“I knew that I had a lot to learn when it came to teaching and I felt like, with the professional development opportunities I’d get through the program, it would make me the most prepared teacher that I can be. The scholarship played a huge, huge role, too.”
Twiss began her freshman year in 2019. As a student in the Teacher Scholars Academy, she lived in the same dormitory with the cohort, building a tight-knit community of fellow future educators, and joined the sorority Chi Omega.
“I grew really strong friendships pretty quickly,” Twiss said. “It’s nice to have people around you who are on the same journey. When I first got here, it did feel huge, but as I started making connections, it felt more like a small town within the university.”
Forging those connections early on was especially beneficial when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a campus shutdown in spring 2020, Twiss’ second semester on campus. Twiss was in the middle of her first teaching practicum when they learned that both the university and Lincoln Public Schools would cease in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year.
“That was really hard to leave our students and that experience, and not really knowing what would come next,” Twiss said. “We leaned on each other and had regular Zooms with each other just to talk about things and process what was happening. I think, too, we grew a new respect for our profession and how adaptable we can be.”
Aside from the community she developed in the academy, Twiss said it also helped her grow personally and professionally.
“Being from a small town, I didn’t encounter a lot of diversity, and the Teacher Scholars Academy helped me understand and appreciate people of different backgrounds, and how much you can learn from each other,” Twiss said. “One of my favorite seminars was on trauma-informed teaching, because I learned so much. I have a huge heart now for Title I schools. All the seminars and experiences have helped me feel prepared to teach in that environment.”
Elliott Elementary, where Twiss also completed her student teaching this spring, is a Title I school, which is a federal designation for additional funding based on high poverty rates among a school’s enrollment. Twiss said she’s excited to join a community she’s already familiar with, and to make an impact.
“My top Clifton strength is ‘developer,’ and that’s really how I see myself as a teacher,” she said. “I’m investing in each student and figuring out what motivates them. By building strong relationships with students, you can see that impact and positive influence. Watching their growth, and the positive influence you have on a student’s life, is why I want to teach.
“I’ve loved working with other teachers through student teaching and practicums, but I am excited to have my own classroom and kind of get to take my tips and tricks from all my experiences and really make it my own.”
Looking back on her academic career, Twiss said she’s thankful for every experience she’s had, even through a global pandemic.
“It’s been very rewarding, even though there were really hard challenges. It reminded me to soak in the rest of my time on campus, when things became more normal again,” she said. “I think one of the best decisions that I had ever made was deciding to be a Husker.”