Lee-Ann Stephens is in her twenty-fifth year of teaching and currently works as a High Achievement Program Advocate at St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota. In her role, she works specifically with Latino and African American students who take IB, AP, and honors classes and helps them achieve their full potential. She was the 2006 MN Teacher of the Year and served on the Minnesota Board of Teaching.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
Growing up, I never entertained the idea of becoming a teacher. Teaching found me. After graduating from college, Miami University in Ohio, I worked as an associate buyer for a department store chain headquartered in Minneapolis. After a few years on the job, I had an epiphany.
I recognized that no one would remember me for choosing the right dress to place in the stores, but someone may remember me for making a difference in his or her life. I volunteered to coordinate an after school tutoring program at my church and I found myself more excited about the program than ever. Thus, began my pursuit of becoming a teacher. I wanted to make a difference.
What is an issue in education you are passionate about?
Everyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the racial disparities that are occurring in achievement. Those disparities are occurring because there are teaching gaps, opportunity gaps and belief gaps. I will do everything in my power to ensure that our black and brown students are not locked out, left out or blocked out of our educational system.
What advice do you give to your high school students who want to become teachers?
I believe that teaching is the noblest of all professions. Teaching begins in your heart. You have to have a heart for all students, not just some. It isn't enough to say that you believe all kids can learn. You have to make sure that all kids will learn. If you are willing to place their needs above yours, then teach. If you are willing to allow their comfort levels to outweigh yours, then teach. If you are willing to do everything within your power to help students succeed academically and socially, then teach. If you are not willing to give it your all, as if your very life depended upon it, then do something else.
You have been honored with awards including the MN Teacher of the Year and been nominated to positions like the MN Board of Teaching. How do you think teachers can best be recognized for their accomplishments?
I never sought any of the honors that I have received. I am thankful to have received them, though. The only recognition that mattered to me was the "thank-yous" that I received from students and families.
That being said, I do think we can do a better job at acknowledging the accomplishments of our teachers.
The greatest recognition is noticing the hard work that teachers put in on a daily basis. How often do we hear our administrators tell us how much they appreciate what we are doing with our students? Not every teacher will be a "teacher of the year," but those who are having successes with our students should be publicly applauded and/or rewarded in some fashion.
Why did you become an E4E member?
I became an E4E member because I wanted my voice to be heard. I wanted to be part of an organization that challenged the "status quo" or "the business as usual" mentality. I wanted to engage with other teachers who had the same mindset as I do. I am a veteran teacher and for far too long, policies and decisions that have impacted me, have been made without my input. I want to be at the table. I want to be a part of a movement that elevated the teaching profession. E4E has allowed that to happen for me.