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Meet Stephanie, Duval County Public Schools 2018 Teacher of the Year
I always wanted to be a teacher, but as I got older I started to realize that I had a really amazing experience and I had all the right teachers and all the right people. However, that wasn't the case for all people and I wanted to bring that same experience and passion to my students.
You almost didn’t stay in your classroom. Tell us about that.
I was adjusting to leaving home. Going from my first year to second year teaching, I thought I was going to be teaching the same grade level and the same content. Shortly before I was set to return to work, I was told that I would be teaching fourth grade. When I got that phone call, I told myself I was not going back. I wanted to stay home with my friends and family.
After your second year, and the last time I saw you, I was under the impression you would be going home, then I got a call from someone telling me you have won teacher of the year. I thought to myself, “Wait a second...she’s still there!?” What happened that made you stay?
That's so true. We met at the Starbucks and you said, “Here's your letter of recommendation. Great job. See ya.” I had actually terminated my lease. My dad had been in town and I remember we were out for dinner and I started crying and said, “I'm coming home.” I missed being home. Then, later on, I went into my principal's office (and we have an amazing relationship) and I told her I was leaving.
And she said “okay” but that she wanted to show me a few things. It was my students’ data in terms of where they were projected to fall in third grade and then how much they had grown now that they were entering fourth grade. They were sitting well above the average. They were lead performers, not only in our region, but also the turnaround region within the district.
It was that conversation alone. We analyzed the data and she said, “You know, these kids need you. You're all that they know. How are they going to go to fifth grade without you?” So I told her if I could teacher fifth again with those same students I would come back, and she told me, “They’re yours.”
That was it. I couldn't leave.
It was really just that conversation. She was invested in me and I mattered.
A lot of times I think teachers feel like they don't matter. We're so caught up in the day to day and everybody's got a job to do that is so crucial and a lot of times we forget to recognize someone who's doing amazing work, whether that be someone next to you or the person who's making your copies and getting them to you within 15-20 minutes. So that conversation in that short, informal meeting helped me realize that I had more work to do there.
Unfortunately, not all of us can win county teacher of the year, or even our schools teacher of the year. So, I wrapped up the interview by asking her how administrators can essentially keep teachers that are as wonderful as her even though there aren't enough awards to go around. And here's what she had to say.
Retention was a big topic in the interview for Teacher of the Year. One key factor is just feeling appreciated. For example, I may say to my partner teacher, “I appreciate you because I'm doing this, that and the other and I got a thousand things going on, but yet you're still printing off the spelling words every week and you don't know how much of help that is to me.” I need someone to say they appreciate me. And that's a simple thank you. And that costs nothing. That really doesn't require you to go out of your way.
I do think that they admit school administrators have the power. From my first year to my second year, the culture of my school was very different. Now the culture in our school's amazing and it's because of something as simple as my principal giving me a Snickers bar midday and saying, “You were doing amazing this morning when you were given the morning announcements.” It’s just something as simple as that to know that you're appreciated. And that's in every job, you know? Sometimes in other jobs it's a monetary bonus, but in our world we live in it’s slightly different, but I'll take the snickers bar. I'll take a sticky note on my desk or a shout out in the weekly newsletter.
Teachers are selfless. I believe something like that is all they need.
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.