Three years ago, Indiana native Emily Stephenson made the decision to move a few miles across the border and make a new home as she started her career as a teacher at Pine Crest Elementary School in Georgetown.

The plan to teach in a small, rural community was never in doubt. After all, she fully understands that resources at schools in small towns can be limited, as she learned growing up in Knox, Ind., which is a similar size to Georgetown with a population just under 4,000. She’s made it her mission to help students like those in her hometown.

“Emily is very driven and has worked to accomplish her goal to obtain a master’s degree in education during her first two years of teaching,” Pine Crest Principal Ashley Vaughn said. “She shares her wealth of knowledge and skills has become a strong teacher leader and a positive role model for all.”

I find my work important because ... I view education as the foundation of a thriving society. Knowledge is what allows each of us to excel in the area that we are most skilled in and passionate about. With the stable foundation that education provides, we are able to build our future.

I became a teacher because ... It became apparent to me as a high school student that access to high-quality education is one of the defining factors in opening doors to success. It also became unmistakable that our education system is not equitable and that students in rural areas are often left at a deficit due to the limited resources available to their schools. I recognized that by becoming a teacher, I could do my part in ensuring that students in rural areas had access to a resource that is more limited than ever, a trained educator.

My most fulfilling moment on the job was/is when ... I start every year by asking my students why I deserve respect. The answers are always, “Because you’re a teacher!” or, “Because you’re an adult,” to which I promptly reply, “No.” I then inform them that the reason that I deserve respect is because I am a human, and every human deserves to be respected, including themselves. Teaching students to not only love and respect others but themselves as well is without a doubt the most fulfilling part of my job.

Something else I’m passionate about is ... I am exceptionally passionate about protecting our environment. Education is the path to a brighter future, but that future cannot exist without a habitable planet.

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is ... The science-fair unit we do each year is by far my favorite lesson. Students learn about the scientific process and then apply that knowledge in their own unique ways via the creation of a science-fair project. Having the opportunity to see students take the information from the classroom and fully apply it to something they are excited about is always a very special experience.

My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was ... Jana Hazelton from Knox Community Elementary School. She had an immense impact on not only who I am as an educator, but as a person as well. I am forever grateful for the time I had with her as a teacher and role model. My favorite subject, however, was AP English taught by Michelle Matysak, where I learned to broaden my perspective, a skill that has served me endlessly.

I engage students during this strange time by ... As humans, I think it is a natural response to be more attentive and engaged in a topic when we can clearly identify how it relates to us or our lives. I try to frame every lesson in the context of students’ lives, allowing for them to make connections between their prior experiences/knowledge and therefore aid them in engaging in deeper learning.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be ... A nurse in an assisted-living setting. There is something inherently nurturing about education, and I believe that sentiment rings true in terms of nursing as well.

— ANTHONY ZILIS

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