Teacher finds her happy place in the Vicksburg district

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Two years ago Stephanie Dill almost left the education field.

She was ready to walk away because she felt students’ social and emotional needs were not being met. That was until she came to Vicksburg.

“I’m very happy in Vicksburg,” Dill said. “I love everything they’re doing with the Leader in Me.”

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This year, the third-grade teacher was named Teacher of the Year at Dana Road Elementary School, and she is glad she stuck with her career. Now she is trying new ideas.

To facilitate learning, recently Dill has gotten rid of many of the desks in her classroom so students can sit in various areas of the room including the floor, lounge chairs, stools and more.

“The set-up is simple. Students enter the room and find a smart seat. They can sit anywhere that will allow them to do their best work,” Dill said. “As I learned from a student several years ago, the focus isn’t on how it’s accomplished, but what is accomplished. This by far has had the greatest impact on student learning in my career.”

She wants her students to have continual conversations about the subject matter they are learning and said her classroom is always a buzz. Dill said technology also plays a major role in the classroom. Using programs like Google Classroom allows the students to communicate with her about their work efficiently.

“Stepping away from the front of the classroom has given me the freedom to immerse myself in their learning while simultaneously collecting formative data to guide small group instruction,” she said.

Every student learns differently, she said, and she has worked to adjust her teaching style to better impact her students’ individual needs in the classroom. Dill said many students respond to setting goals and measuring their progress.

During a history unit, students were able to choose a Civil Rights leader they wanted to research. Students worked in small groups, with partners and individually to learn about these trailblazers. The project allowed the class to talk to each other about race relations and other topics like bravery.

“Their final product consisted of a lap book and an explanatory text in which they were challenged to explain how their chosen leader’s courage influenced today’s society,” Dill said. “It was during this time I could see myself as a facilitator of a truly student-driven lesson.”

Impacting the lives, academically and personally, of children is a major responsibility that Dill doesn’t take lightly. It is her favorite part of the job.

Teaching was not a career Dill thought she wanted. Both of her parents were teachers and she saw how difficult the job could be, but naturally, teaching was in her genes and eventually she found her way to being an educator.

“I grew up saying I’d never be a teacher because my mom always came home tired and she was grading all the time,” Dill said. “But as I got older I would hear the parts of it that as a child I didn’t listen to, as far as the rewarding things that came from it.”

Dill was a dental assistant and often trained people. She realized she was teaching on a daily basis, and her mother encouraged her by telling her she’d be a great teacher. Dill studied elementary education at Hinds Community College and Mississippi College, and she is currently working toward her master’s in special education/gifted from the University of Southern Mississippi.

“I’m still just in awe I was going to quit two years ago and now here I am getting my master’s,” she said. “Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Dill is in her second year at Dana Road. She spent the first 12 years of her career teaching at schools in Florence and Raymond. She is a member of Mississippi Professional Educators, Lighthouse Baptist Church and Lighthouse Team Committee.

“I teach because of a passion to ignite a flame,” she said.

Dill is married to her husband Johnny. She has three children Nicole Hunter, Bill Staggs and Gracie Staggs and four grandchildren.

Twenty-one teachers in Warren County were nominated for teacher of the year. The Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce has selected a panel of educators to interview each school’s chosen teacher and will choose one elementary and one secondary teacher of the year on Feb. 15. Both teachers will receive $1,000.

Today’s story is the eighth in a series of articles on each teacher up for the honor of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Teacher of the Year.