Southeast Missouri State University alumnae, Autumn Stevens and Linda Beck, know what it takes to spark a love of learning in their students. On Oct. 24, both were honored by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as Regional Teachers of the Year.
Stevens graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Education in 2007. She teaches reading at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Missouri.
“Every day 122 students fill my day with laughter, surprise and learning,” she said.
Stevens didn’t originally plan to become a teacher; she started at Southeast as a public relations major.
From left are Cory Crosnoe, Jackson Junior High principal; Autumn Stevens, Southeast Regional Teacher of the Year; Dr. Rita Fisher, director, Regional Professional Development Center, Southeast Missouri State University; and Dr. John Link, superintendent Jackson R-II School District
“My mom kept encouraging me to become a teacher because she respected the profession and thought I would be good at it. Mom knows best!” she said.
Beck attended Southeast for graduate school, earning a Master of Arts in secondary school administration in 2014. She teaches language arts to students in grades 7- 12 at Zalma R5 School in Zalma, Missouri. Like Stevens, teaching wasn’t what Beck originally planned to do with her life either.
“I became a teacher at the age of 36. I wish I had given into this calling when I was in my early 20s,” she said.
Beck’s career change has been rewarding for both her and her students; she has won several awards, including recognition as a “Distinguished Teacher” by ABC Teach in 2010, and, before coming to Zalma, her 9th grade students in Charleston recognized her as their “Teacher of the Year.”
The women both work hard to keep their students engaged. Stevens says she takes time to talk with her students and make connections with them.
“Students that feel like their teacher has a genuine interest in their well-being want to do well for that teacher. Even if the subject matter is not their favorite, building rapport keeps students open to concepts and ideas that the teacher brings. I believe that making these connections helps students to learn more because their minds are already open to the thoughts and lessons I teach.”
Beck also focuses on developing critical thinking skills in her students.
“I strive to keep my students actively engaged in research, discussion and debate, and in active learning projects. We work on projects and papers instead of units and worksheets.”
Beck says she strives to encourage learning long after the students leave her classroom.
“I believe in producing critical thinkers who can synergize different skills and knowledge. I hope my students become thoughtful individuals with some ability to teach themselves and formulate their own opinions. I also hope to prepare them for the rigors of college,” she said.
Both women are pleased with the training they received through Southeast’s College of Education.
“I am a proud Southeast graduate and have great respect for the professors in my program,” said Beck.
Stevens agreed, adding, “I feel fortunate that there was an accredited and respected university so close to home that fit my academic needs and future professional goals. Southeast Missouri State University provided me with the ability to study schools in the area during my field experience as a block teacher. Without this opportunity, I would not have been as prepared to teach after graduation. It was an invaluable experience!”