DBU Alumna Sets Up "At-Risk" Teens for Lifetime Success


"I hate textbooks!" high school teacher and DBU alumna Rachaele Tarrant says. Her students at OD Wyatt High School in Fort Worth agree. In a school where 88.2 percent of students are "at-risk" and 92.9 percent are "economically disadvantaged," textbooks and traditional teaching methods aren't going to cut it. Add to that the fact that she specializes in teaching history to the 27.6 percent of the school's population who lack English proficiency, and you'll realize Rachaele's job is no picnic.

She faces a tough crowd, but when Rachaele opens her class it's sheer magic! From insightful videos to producing podcasts, from creating timelines to conducting an "autopsy of an empire," there's never a dull moment in her history class. The students are always moving, interacting, and creating something with the new information she's challenged them to discover.

Rachaele knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was 11 years old. Her journey toward the goal began to take root when, during her senior year, she drove her mother to classes at Dallas Baptist University. Her mother was completing a Master of Arts in Children's Ministry and a recent surgery left her unable to drive. Serving as her mother's personal Uber service, Rachaele found herself spending a great deal of time on the hill.

"I just fell in love with the campus and the professors, just the whole culture of DBU," she recalls. After completing community college, Rachaele knew exactly where she needed to be. "It was the only school that I applied to because I really felt that God was calling me to go there," she said. Rachaele completed her undergraduate degree in education at DBU in 2012 and then went on to complete a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry at DBU in 2018.

Of course, it takes more than a college degree to make a great teacher. It was a process marked not only by quality education but also the "trail-by-fire" of practical experience in the classroom. During her first year of teaching at Jean McClung Middle School in Fort Worth, she reached a low point.

"I had one particular class where it didn't matter what I did, all they wanted to do is sit there and talk and they didn't care and I had finally had it," she remembers. "I yelled at them at the top of my lungs and told them to shut up." The outburst got her students' attention, but it diminished the standard she had set for herself. "That's when I realized I wasn't the teacher I wanted to be," she said.

Rachaele reached out to her former professors for help. DBU education professors Dr. Judy Abercrombie and Dr. Martha Oldenburg came to help her work through some of the tough issues she faced that first year as a teacher. They observed her classes, jotting down notes to help her think through how to reach her students.

"I still have that paper, and I still remember the lessons in the conversation that I had with them," Rachaele says. "That has really helped to shape me into what I do now."

And what she does now is nothing short of incredible. Her teaching philosophy is rooted in student-centered learning. "I'm just the one that's giving them instructions on what they need to do," she explains. "They're the ones who are taking control of their own learning and finding the information because if they take control of their own learning, they're going to learn it better."

She requires the students to produce something that teaches their classmates. Sometimes they make podcasts. Other times they make human outlines that represent empires and explain why those empires fell. "If they have to teach somebody else what they learned, then they're going to remember it," she says.

Rachaele's classes may be fun and even entertaining, but does her approach to education really work-- especially for these at-risk youth? In the state of Texas, the proof is in the STAAR test. Even though four of her six history classes at OD Wyatt High School are "English Language Learner" classes (with students who are immigrants or refugees from Mexico, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Kenya, Tanzania, Korea, Nepal, and Nigeria), 82 percent passed their STARR history test last year. Four even reached "mastery" level.

While many think that the odds may be against the at-risk students at OD Wyatt High School in Fort Worth, they are not when they've got teachers like Rachaele Tarrant in their corner, determined not only to teach them history, but also the art of self-education which sets them up for a lifetime of success.

Written by Trudy Chun

Trudy Chun serves as a freelance writer for DBU and served as a missionary in Eastern Hungary for more than a decade.  Her husband, Russell Chun, teaches English in our International Department, and the two and their family are very actively involved with World Relief. She is the author Love & Ashes and The BuddhaPest, as well as the co-author A Story of Grace.