Central Texas Writing Project alum
earns Teacher of the Year award
By Billi London-Gray
Most teachers don’t cut their teeth working with criminal offenders. Most teachers don’t speak five languages. But most teachers don’t come within reach of Stephanie Stoebe.
The Round Rock ISD high school teacher was named the Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year last month by the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Education Agency. Stoebe, a reading specialist, also is an alumna of the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University.
Stoebe’s background as a linguistically gifted student with an international upbringing — in addition to English, she speaks German, French, Slovak and Korean — gave her a unique perspective on education and acute motivation for her work. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree and spending four years in the U.S. Army, she worked as the director of educational services for a regional probation department in Texas, helping young offenders earn their high school diplomas or GEDs.
Hearing voiced the educational regrets and struggles of her probationers pointed Stoebe toward a teacher’s intervening role. “I knew that I could make a difference if I were a teacher,” she recalls. “If I could reach people such as my former defendants when they were young, if I could impart to them just a little bit of my love of learning, then this distaste for school and learning would not exist. I became determined to make a difference and to interrupt the cycle.”
After earning her master’s degree in education, Stoebe started teaching sixth-grade English. She eventually taught all levels of middle- and high-school reading. Now in her sixth year as a teacher, she works with freshmen but says her goal is the same with every group: “I am the voice for those students who have yet to find theirs. I will speak on their behalf until those voices sing.”
Looking for ways to help students find their voices was what brought her to the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State’s Round Rock Campus in June 2010. As part of the National Writing Project, CTWP trains Central Texas educators to improve writing and literacy learning at all education levels and disciplines. After completing the writing-intensive program, CTWP fellows are certified to lead professional development for their peers.
Stoebe says the CTWP experience reinforced her goals, giving her more empathy for her students and introducing her to new a group of supportive peers. “Some of the most rewarding [parts of the program] were experiencing writing as a kid would…the frustration, the ‘what do you want?’ syndrome…the joy of setting myself free with words,” she says. “I became part of a community of teacher-writers who share their love of words with their students and who inspire their kids to try something new in playing with the written language.”
As she shares her love of learning with her students, Stoebe stays focused on what she defines as an educator’s mission — educating all children. “Not some children. Not honors children. Not native-English-speaking children. All children,” she says.
Her success in these efforts led to her selection as the Round Rock ISD Secondary Teacher of the Year. She then won the Region XIII Secondary Teacher of the Year award and became one of three finalists for the Texas Secondary Teacher award. Stoebe and other finalists were interviewed on Sept. 10 before a judging panel, which determined the top elementary and secondary teacher. Along with statewide recognition at an Oct. 14 ceremony, she received a $5,000 award.
“We are so proud to have Stephanie Stoebe recognized by her education peers for her hard work and dedication,” Round Rock ISD Superintendent Dr. Jesús H. Chávez said in a press release. “Stephanie is a wonderful teacher and a model of how teachers can make a dramatic difference in the life of a student. We are honored at Round Rock ISD to have teachers of such a high-caliber teaching our students.”
Dr. Sharon O’Neal, a Texas State professor involved with CTWP, echoed such praise. “Ms. Stoebe is a fine scholar and a master teacher,” she says. “She always finds a way for her students to experience success in the classroom. She constantly reflects on her work with her high school students and is always searching for ways to make instruction meaningful to them.”