Meet Our Team: Eyka Stephens
In this blog series, we are interviewing members of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.
Why did you want to become a teacher?
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. When that day arrived, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and I still can’t! As I reflect on my life as an educator, I realize I have a relentless passion for teaching – period. Over the years I’ve expanded my audience from scholars, to teachers, to principals, and network/district leaders.
Tell us about your background in education.
My teaching career began simultaneously as I completed my undergrad in education. I completed three years of teaching by the time my student-teaching opportunity came around. I taught at a day care for one year and for two years I taught Pre-K. I had the opportunity to teach multiple grade levels from elementary to middle, and then college courses to teachers earning their master’s degree in reading. Each scholar from four to 64 years old brought new and different challenges that shaped my approach to teaching and learning. Entering into both site-based and district leadership gave me a completely new perspective and thus my foray into my current role as an educational consultant of which I’m moving into my 16th year.
What was your first teaching experience like? What did it teach you?
My first teaching experience was in a fifth-grade class in a catholic school in Miami. I remember every day being a challenge as I strived to get my scholars to believe that they were not just ordinary, rather, each of them was destined for excellence. They should expect nothing less of themselves and others. What I didn’t realize is how much time I would invest in non-academic talk. Scholars came to school early or stayed after school to review their lessons, help me prep activities, get extra help or their favorite…just talk about their lives. In that first year, I learned that knowing my scholars beyond the “interest inventory” in September made my 8:00am-3:00pm day have little to no struggles with classroom management. It also allowed me to push scholars harder academically because they knew I had their best interests at heart.
Do you have any regrets from your first few years of teaching that you wish you could do over? Why or why not?
Unfortunately, yes. I regret my decision to retain a student in my second year of teaching. I taught first grade and it was my one and only retained student. When I think about it now, how crazy is it to think that a first grader failed that year. A first grader who showed up to school every day and came to school with hopes and dreams. I failed that scholar. It’s hard to admit, but I most definitely did. If I was afforded a do over, I would have adopted the “by any means necessary” attitude in dealing with academic success for this scholar. Including options such as before and after school tutorial sessions, planning lessons with this scholar in mind, and frequent formative assessments to ensure progress was happening. I used retention as an option for this scholar instead of seeing success as mandatory!
What is your unique perspective when working with educators?
People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Relationship building is not unique. However, it is absolutely the model I live by as I interact with teachers, principals, and coaches.
What are you an ‘expert’ in besides CT3’s work?
I am passionate about getting scholars to be literate in all aspects of their academic life. With that said, I have left the classroom of getting to 20-30 scholars at a time to increasing my numbers to reach thousands of scholars each year. My personal goal revolves around moving the U.S. literacy rate into the 90’s. Currently, the U.S. literacy rate falls below the world average literacy rate of 86.3%.
What in your opinion is the most important aspect of school in order to best serve students?
A school filled with teachers who believe that 100% of scholars will perform at their highest potential. When teachers believe scholars can, they plan lessons where success is the only option. Failure, after all, belongs to the teacher. More and more I’m encountering teachers who abide by that mindset and it’s an honor and joy to watch them in action with their scholars. They are not easily swayed or discouraged by scholars who are school dependent and not meeting grade-level proficiency. Instead, teachers with this empowering mindset are motivated by what others would label “impossible” or say “I’m just being a realist”. These teachers are equipped with high expectations and high support.
What is your best advice for a first-year teacher?
My best advice for a first-year teacher is to be intentional about building a classroom culture and climate where scholars feel safe and challenged. Make a list of everything you’d want to see, hear, and feel as a scholar in your room. Then, start implementing them one day at a time and consistently one week at a time. You can start now, even though it’s November. The best piece of advice I received as a first-year teacher was simple – tomorrow, you get to start all over!
If you could only tell educators ONE thing about No-Nonsense Nurturer, what would it be?
Try it out and watch how each step of the No-Nonsense Nurturer model builds a deeper relationship with every scholar in your classroom. What happens when you plan and deliver precise directions? How do your scholars respond? Really try it for a week and note the results.
What’s been your proudest moment working with educators?
A smile crosses my face as I think about a conversation I had at the beginning of this school year with a principal I’ve worked with for three years. What’s humbling about the conversation is the shift in the principal’s focus. In 2014, the main objective and topic of discussion revolved solely around classroom climate and culture – let’s get scholars in class and attending to the teacher. Now, the conversation is about teacher pedagogy that increases the rigor of scholar responses and supports scholars as they articulate their thoughts and creations. They’re absolutely and positively on the way to building literacy, especially in communities where scholars are disenfranchised and school dependent.