At 13, Niki Herbert wanted to be a sports journalist. It took her becoming one to help her find her true calling.
“When I would interview high school students I felt like something was missing in their education and I felt compelled to go find out,” Herbert said. “I knew it was time for something different.”
The search for a more sustainable profession led the 2000 Sports Journalist Institute alum and former Houston Chronicle journalist to the classroom, where she has spent the last 15 years transforming lives as a teacher.
A Houston native, Herbert grew up playing basketball and was inspired by her youth coach, former NBA star and Houston Rockets sports analyst Calvin Murphy, to work toward becoming a sports commentator.
Herbert pursued sports writing all the way up to Trinity University in San Antonio, where she wrote for the school newspaper and worked on football broadcasts. During her junior year, Herbert was selected to be a part of the SJI, and with that came an internship at the Houston Chronicle that summer.
“I was surprised to be chosen for SJI because Trinity is a small liberal arts school in Texas that is not known for journalism,” Herbert said. “The people at SJI saw something that I didn't and gave me a chance.”
Through covering high school sports at the Chronicle, Herbert was able to write pieces that shed light on different parts of the city that were not getting much publicity. Charlie Crixell, Herbert’s mentor at the Chronicle, said he saw her grow from a novice writer into a talented journalist by the end of the summer.
“She wasn't afraid of anything,” Crixell said. “She plunged right into any situation. That's what made her such a good journalist.”
The summer at the Chronicle was not only a time of personal and professional growth, but also solidified her passion for print journalism.
After graduating from Trinity with a bachelor’s in communication, Herbert freelanced for the Chronicle before she went back to work full-time covering high school sports. While she loved journalism, she realized she needed a more sustainable position, leading her to pursue teaching through an alternative certification program.
“If we have the ability to help the next generation, we should take that opportunity,” Herbert said.
Wanting to stay close to home, Herbert taught English for eight years at various schools and was able to combine her passion for writing and serving others.
In 2014, Herbert briefly returned to the newsroom as a copy editor, but by the next year she was again working with students – this time as an English as Second Language instructor at Stafford (Texas) High School near Houston, where she taught English and writing for five years. Her commitment to her students earned her Stafford Teacher of the Year honors for the 2018-2019 school year.
Herbert now teaches at Willowridge High School in Houston, which has produced more than a dozen NBA and NFL players, including Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas. She said she sometimes misses being a journalist but feels fulfilled using her writing skills to help students express themselves.
“Education is a completely selfless endeavor because you're addressing so much more than gaps in education.” Herbert said. “When I was a journalist, I felt like I was constantly looking for a pat on the back, but with teaching, I don't seek any of that.”