Dreams really do come true

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Joanna Howerton Stevens
Joanna Howerton Stevens

As a young girl, I often played school with my imaginary students. My bedroom was my classroom and it included an old school desk with a red grade book similar to the one my mom used to record her students’ grades.  My teachers were my role models and I was eager to attend school each day.  It was my fantasy to be a real teacher.

I seriously contemplated my future career during high school and considered careers in accounting and pharmacy. At that time, I had the opportunity to serve as a student tutor in the Lincoln County High School after-school program and summer school. I found it rewarding to work with one of my peers and witness the concepts being grasped.  When a student beamed with excitement after solving a problem, I took pride in this joyous event. While I viewed this job as an opportunity to serve others, I quickly realized that I was personally benefiting from the position.  I was increasing my content knowledge each time I explained the material. I learned to approach problems from different viewpoints as students bombarded me with questions.  Most importantly, this experience helped revive my childhood fantasy and, once again, it was my goal to be a teacher.

I continued to serve as a peer tutor through college at the University of Kentucky. The majority of the students that I encountered despised math and were stunned that someone would choose to pursue a career in math or voluntarily enroll in math courses. Although some might consider it nerdy or repulsive, math has always fascinated me. The consistency of math continues to captivate me.  The Pythagorean Theorem and Quadratic Formula never fail.  From discovering a method to calculate the area of a circle to the development of calculus, I am astonished at the capabilities of the human mind and the applications of mathematics to our lives.

When I completed graduate school, I taught for a year in Lexington, Ky., at Lafayette High School before I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater, Lincoln County High School in Stanford, Kentucky.  I was very excited to return to my hometown and give back to the community that contributed so much to my education.  Shortly after the school year began, our school was identified as a Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school.  As an alum and current educator, I was disappointed in this classification and our test scores.  Since this classification, our administrators, faculty, staff, and students have worked diligently and intentionally to increase our test scores. We have focused on aligning our curriculum to Common Core State Standards, creating rigorous common assessments, and implementing high-yield instructional strategies.  When we received our PLA classification we were ranked at the bottom 15th percentile in the state. Two years later, we fall in the 83rd percentile and boast a Proficient classification. While it is evident that our rallying efforts have improved our school culture, the test scores provided concrete results that we are making a positive impact.

My childhood fantasy of becoming a teacher has come true and my dream of teaching mathematics in my hometown has come to fruition. However, as a current teacher, I am still dreaming.  My aspirations now include using my talents and skills to maximize the intelligence and creativity of my students. I hope to inspire my students to positively impact others and improve our school, community, and future.  My wishes are fulfilled through witnessing my students achieve success in their endeavors.

It was beyond my wildest imagination to be named the 2014 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year in only my fourth year as a teacher. I was humbled to be nominated for such a prestigious recognition and thrilled to be selected as a finalist. As the 2014 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year, I want to work with educators across the Commonwealth to fulfill the dream that all Kentucky students will graduate fully prepared for college or their future careers.

Joanna Howerton Stevens, a mathematics teacher Lincoln County High School, was named the 2014 High School Teacher of the Year on October 16, 2013. She will write occasional columns for Kentucky Teacher during her year-long reign. 

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