Stephanie Stoebe traded a career in the U.S. Army for a classroom full of students. After learning to speak three languages (in addition to English) and working in military intelligence, she decided to become a teacher. Stoebe, 42, has taught high school English in Round Rock for more than two years. Based on her teaching philosophy, which emphasizes learning, not just preparing students for state-mandated tests, the Texas Education Agency named her the 2012 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. In June, she was honored at the Texas Regional Teacher of the Year gathering hosted by the Association of Texas Professional Educators Foundation.
“I refuse to teach to the test, and every teacher that I admire most refuses to teach to the test. If I want to teach theme and plot using Amy Tan’s Rules of the Game or [Edgar Allan Poe’s] The Cask of Amontillado, it doesn’t matter. As long as I teach the standards the test is going to cover, I’m fine. I can do that with my personality. I can do that with my lessons. I can do that with the text that I choose.
“I once had a student who didn’t want to read a story in class because of some of the language … so I told him to tell me why he didn’t want to read the story. What he wrote was so much more relevant, rigorous and applicable to what was going on in his life and our world. I got more gain out of allowing him to express himself than by forcing him to read a short story. Because I let him express himself, I learned more about him, and he learned that I valued him. And you know what? He never disputed anything else I wanted him to do because he knew that if push came to shove and he was opposed to something, I would be there to have his back.
“I always say to new teachers, ‘Never forget why you began this journey to become a teacher.’ You can never forget it. The day you discover you don’t know why you signed up for this ride is the day you need to leave education, because a teacher, especially in these times, needs to be constantly aware of the motivation behind his or her decision to teach. Once you lose that motivation, I don’t know how you can be effective in the classroom.
“I honestly did not feel that budget cuts affected my ability to teach. I had books. I had resources. I had the Internet. I could make copies. In my district, I still got all the training I needed plus training I wanted. …We took a hard look at what we needed and what we had. And we did it, and we did just fine.
“I have often been criticized by peers that say I need to tone it down or get off the soapbox and mellow out. I say ‘no’ because I only have one shot. I get one chance to make an impact on Evelyn or Rodrigo or Louis or Suzette or any of these kids. I get one shot, and as soon as I show them that I believe them and that I will help them, regardless of what it takes, they are mine forever … I say, ‘Let’s fix it. Let’s do it. Let’s make change.’
“I believe in our education system. I believe in the potential we have. I don’t think it’s perfect, but show me something that is … I see myself making as big of an impact on education for as long as I can … I know that I will always be connected to kids—if I mentor them, if I teach them, or if I lead them—in some way I have to have that interaction with kids to feed my soul. I don’t necessarily know in what venue that will be, but I will forever be linked to making a positive impact on the education of kids.”