GaDOE: When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Stephanie Vidrine: My father, mother, sister and I are all educators. I grew up with the idea that I wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school when I had an amazing Algebra II teacher, Mrs. Elaine Pappas, who kept explaining things in different ways for me going so far as to draw with a marker on the wall until I understood. She took me from a defeated, struggling math student to a confident, excelling math student in 4 months. It was then I decided to teach mathematics so that the students I taught could have the same experience. She never gave up on me and I never give up on my students to honor how she completely transformed my educational experience.
GaDOE: What keeps you in the classroom?
Stephanie: Without a doubt my students keep me in the classroom! It’s their smiling faces, their optimism (yes, even in a math class), their determination, and their dedication to learning that fuel my fire. If they can work that hard, then I’ll do everything I can to give them every opportunity to learn!
GaDOE: What character qualities make great teachers?
Stephanie: Great teachers are dedicated, willing to do what their students need so that they can experience success. Great teachers are determined, never ever giving up on any of their students. Great teachers are empathetic, understanding that these are children and they sometimes need time to process the twists and turns of life. Great teachers are flexible, able to adjust a lesson if a learning opportunity presents itself or if there is an unavoidable change of schedule. Great teachers are creative, coming up with new ways to reach the students that are struggling or that need to be challenged in another way. Great teachers cooperate and share, working together to make their instruction stronger. Great teachers care about who their students are and who they are going to be. Great teachers celebrate student achievement and work harder to give the students the tools for success when they stumble. Great teachers put the students FIRST and provide the best opportunity for the students to learn every second they spend with them!
GaDOE: What is your favorite part of the school year? Why?
Stephanie: My favorite part of the school year is the spring. It is a culmination of all the student’s hard work and you can see the changes in them as they prepare for the next grade. Teaching 8th grade is magical as they come in as children, and leave with the signs of becoming young men and women. Watching the students develop their abstract thinking skills as they proceed from the concrete is as beautiful as the metamorphosis of a butterfly. It is to amazing to watch the students realize that hard work yields results and that if they work hard and stay focused, they can achieve great things. As with the sun and the flowers, hope glows and optimism blooms in the students as they discover how far they have come in just 180 days. One of my favorite moments during the spring time is the day we have our 8th grade Olympics. It is really incredible to see the students of all educational levels, backgrounds, and abilities working in teams and competing in events that they are passionate about and really enjoy. It’s one day in the year that a lot of struggling students get to shine and experience a high level of success while the whole grade is supporting and encouraging them.
GaDOE: What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
Stephanie: I cannot seem to remember a specific quote from a student. I do remember on more than one occasion, tears running down my face having given in to a well-played quip or pun, especially those mathematics related, as I try to contain the joy of teaching these students. Every day, even on the challenging days, when the students start walking down the hallway proceeding toward their day of exploring and learning new things… I smile.
GaDOE: What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
Stephanie: After thinking about this question for a while, I’ve got to admit there is a trifecta of technology that I enjoy using in my classroom. When I started teaching, I had an Elmo overhead projector and a chalk board that I eventually covered with bathroom wall board just so that I could have one of the ‘new’ white boards in my classroom. The Smart Board I have today brings so much more into my classroom. I can use videos, funny ones, exciting ones, intriguing ones, inspiring ones to capture my student’s interest for the mathematics they are about to learn. The students can present from the Smart Board and enjoy ‘teaching’ their classmates the mathematics. Secondly, I enjoy implementing use of the laptops I have in my classroom for the students to explore the mathematics though applets and applications. Lastly, I love showing the students how the graphing calculators can further their understanding of the concepts they are learning. To watch my student’s eyes literally light up and hear their gasps and giggles as they explore the magic of mathematics is priceless.
GaDOE: Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
Stephanie: I wake up and snuggle for just a moment with each of my three children as they wake, then it’s off to reflect on yesterday and brainstorm the lessons planned for today. I often do some of my best brainstorming while getting ready and with that often comes last minute alterations to the plans so that the students are engaged. I get to school 90 minutes early and am focused on making sure everything is in place to make the day memorable for the students. When the bell rings, I’m in the hallway greeting the 8th graders as they head to their lockers and make sure they know how glad I am to see them.
GaDOE: What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
Stephanie: I tell my students I know what it is like to struggle in mathematics. My 8th grade teacher, in a moment of certain frustration, told me “You’ll never be any good at math.” I tell them about my experiences as a math student and the hard work I had to put in just to understand the concepts. We talk about how I spent years being very unsuccessful in mathematics and how I had just about accepted what my Pre-Algebra teacher had told me as factual. I then introduce them to my memory of Mrs. Pappas and how her determination changed my perspective of myself and my mathematical abilities. I understood that there will always be people “better” at mathematics than I am, but that it would not deter me from becoming the best teacher I could be for my students. It is just that some students, like me, have to work harder than others. In my room, tests are just an opportunity for them to show what they know, and that if they prepare and work hard, they can be successful. I tell them that I get up every day just to spend the day with them, that I appreciate how hard they work, how they support and encourage each other inside and outside of the clasroom. My students know I believe in them and that EVERY student in my class is capable of learning and succeeding in mathematics!
What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
The teachers I work with at Woodstock Middle School are tremendously dedicated to their students. They work hard all day and even late into the night to make sure the students have the best learning experience day after day. They balance so many expectations, not only from students, parents, coworkers, and administrators but also the expectations they place upon themselves. They give 110% each and every day and go home and invest more time. I tell my colleagues that the work they do is making a difference for their students, that even if it does not seem like it right now, our students will take away with them what we have tried so hard to get them to learn. What we are doing day in and day out matters, most of all to our students. What we do every day in 8th grade is opening doors for our kids, giving them greater and greater opportunities. Our students will be better students and better people for having spent the school year with us.
What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
The FIRST bit of teaching advice that profoundly altered my thought process I remember getting from a UGA secondary mathematics education professor. As he sat on the top of one of the desks putting his feet in the seat he looked us all in the eye and said don’t even think about buying a house, getting married, or any big life changing event your first year of teaching. Teaching is enough of a life change, especially that first year. Give yourself the time you’ll need to be the best teacher you can be! His words sounded like those of a dictator, telling me how to live my life. Even though the youth in me wanted to rebel, I listened and he was SO right. I spent that first year focused on teaching and the rest all fell into place.
The best teaching advice I have ever received was to attend the Georgia Council Teachers of Mathematics Conferences at Rock Eagle. I have been so fortunate that over the last 20 years in the classroom, I’ve had administrators that appreciate and support teachers in having that experience. The teachers who attend are dedicated, optimistic, creative, and willing to share their ideas. It is a wonderful opportunity to network across the state, get new ideas, try new things, and bring home great learning opportunities for the students in the classroom. The atmosphere about the learning of mathematics is so positive and full of electrifying energy that it recharges my teacher soul almost as much as my students do. The conference experience sends me back to the classroom impatient to share these new strategies with the students.