Stephanie O’Neil teaches ninth- and 10th-grade English at Carver College and Career Academy, but her journey started in the film industry.
She wanted to be a screenwriter and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. She spent three years working for a talent manager. However, she wanted a more creative career so she pursued teaching. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on film studies from Messiah College and completed additional coursework for her teaching certification.
“I honestly love it,” she said. “I can’t imagine not teaching high school. It matched all my interests, and it’s very fulfilling as a job. That was one of the things I didn’t like about the film industry, you don’t have a lot of creative control,” O’Neil said. “I loved it. It was interesting, but there’s just a lot of emotional fulfillment in teaching.”
O’Neil, who has taught five years at Carver, said she became a teacher because she liked working with young people. She said she had worked with child and teen actors when she lived in L.A. and liked helping them with their homework and teaching.
“I knew I wanted to work with young people, and I knew I was passionate about learning and about English, so I was like: ‘I’ll give it a try,’” she said, adding that she kind of stumbled into teaching.
O’Neil used to teach English 11 and night school, and although she loves teaching older students, she said she likes seeing ninth- and 10th-graders grow up.
“There’s something really nice about getting the kids when they first get to high school and being there to help them transition,” O’Neil said. “I always cry at graduation because you’ve known them for years at [that] point. They always come back and tell you about how things are going.”
In addition to teaching, O’Neil is in charge of the creative writing and game clubs, and she coaches the forensics team at Carver. One of her students won the high school division of the Virginia War Memorial Veterans Day Essay contest last year. A part of the prize was money for the classroom, which O’Neil used to purchase books her students were assigned to read.
Despite her short time as a teacher, O’Neil was named “teacher of the year” by her peers last spring, which she said was exciting.
One of her favorite things about being a teacher is the connections she has made and being able to impact others.
“I can’t really imagine not teaching,” she said. “I would have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to wrap my head around that, it’s just part of my life now.”