Essential Educator Award Teacher Q&A: Stephanie Summers
Part two of our Q&A series with the Essential Educator Award winners. Read on for more from our Springfield, MO Public Schools winner Stephanie Summers.
What made you want to become a teacher?
Truly, being a teacher is what I always wanted to do. Even as a young child, my siblings and I would play school with each other and our stuffed animals. As I got older, school was a really safe place for me, where I could express my thoughts and feelings, ask questions without a worry, and build relationships. When I started to look at what I might want to do, teaching was a job where I could make a difference in my community and for my students and their families. I wanted my classroom to be a safe place for my students that provided them with a space to help them learn and grow the way my teachers had done for me. I felt like teaching made the world a better place, and it was the only thing I could ever imagine doing each and every day.
What have you learned about your profession in the past year?
I have learned that teachers are always up to any challenge. Whether online or in-person, under a changing set of circumstances, schedules, and guidelines, we are there for our students and their families. I have also learned how important it is for us to be there for each other, more than ever. Teachers and school staff must work together as a team for our kids, we all know that. But we also need to be able to lean on each other and recognize when someone needs support or a break so that we can meet the next challenge.
What has been the greatest challenge this past year?
Change is our greatest challenge. Every year we have changes in curriculum, staff, students, but this year was a whole different kind of change, and on an unprecedented scale, as well. Seated teachers had to find ways to figure out how to do basic things like class discussions, morning meetings, small groups, and stations...all 6 feet apart. Online, we had to figure out how to meet the needs of non-readers and budding readers, kids who go back and forth between different locations each day, and getting kids engaged and excited about logging in each day. We had to figure out how to do team-building and cooperative learning, either online or with social distancing guidelines in place. I would say a big part of this was feeling like a brand-new teacher all over again. When something didn't work, how could we fix it? How do I teach this? How do I overcome this barrier or obstacle? How can I make this work so that we can learn and grow together? Change has been our greatest challenge.
What has been the greatest reward this past year?
My greatest reward this year has been building relationships with students and families and watching my students grow in leaps and bounds. Online, we are in their homes. They hear everything we say in a lesson, and I can see and hear everything going on there, too. Building relationships with families has been vital in getting students logged in and learning, sure, but it has also helped us all be more compassionate and understanding. Families tell me if something is not working, and we have found solutions that work through scheduling, small groups, or one-on-one meetings. Students have grown in social skills, talking and sharing, reading aloud, as well as in reading, math, writing, and integrated units of social studies, science, and health. I have students who are readers now, who started off not being able to write or read their own names. Others could not count past 10, and now they are adding double digit numbers. Online learning has been a challenge, but watching my students learn and grow as we work together with their families has been so rewarding!
How does it feel to be honored with the Essential Educator award?
I was honored and appreciative to be recognized with the Essential Educator award. This year has been full of challenges and successes, and many colleagues and educators all over the country deserve to be recognized for their work to meet the needs of students, families, and communities. I was very surprised to be chosen, knowing there are so many deserving educators! I am thankful that Cambium is recognizing educators for overcoming all that we have faced this year in education.