Every morning as students get off the bus at Falling Creek Middle School, Cecelia Stith greets them with a hug because she said that,... Stith enjoys challenge of teaching in low-income area

Every morning as students get off the bus at Falling Creek Middle School, Cecelia Stith greets them with a hug because she said that, for some, that will be the only hug they get all day.

“It’s just rewarding … to be able to give them a hug and give them the love and support and confidence by praising them and … helping them to see that what they’re capable of doing,” she said.

Stith is a seventh-grade English teacher. She chose to work at schools in high-poverty areas because those students have a greater need, she said, noting that she is drawn to giving back to kids who are less fortunate.

Her college dissertation focused on teachers’ interaction with students and examined implicit biases and different cultural responses. The topic was interesting because “research shows our population demographics are changing,” she said. “I wanted to bring an awareness to … implicit biases and trauma-informed care training, understanding that some kids have been exposed to violent acts before they even reach [age 4] and how that might impact their ability to learn or interact with their peers, adults, teachers and persons of authority.”

Education was not her first choice, however. She wanted to be the director of a nursing home when she was in college. However, her uneasiness with chemistry and physics led her to teaching.

Stith has taught fifth and seventh grades and provided extracurricular support in after-school remediation for students in fourth through 12th grades. She prefers teaching middle school students, which she finds challenging and rewarding.

“Research shows that if you don’t catch kids in middle school and help steer them on the trajectory of graduation at middle school that the percentage increases where they may drop out,” she said. “I felt my niche or gift is being able to relate to kids, pouring love into them, helping them to see their strengths and working on those strengths to enrich the learning opportunities for them.”

Being named a “teacher of the year” last spring was a great honor, she said, noting that it pushes her even more when someone recognizes her hard work.

At the end of the school day, Stith said she reflects on how she spoke to her students, how the lesson went, what to “tweak” and how she treated her students. She’s been teaching for 20 years, but said she is always changing her lesson plans and treats every school year as if it’s her first. She explained that her lesson plans consist “25 percent of what really worked or resonated with the kids last year” and “75 percent is new to keep myself challenged and not be complacent.”

Her former students keep in touch with her, she said, adding that it is rewarding to see them meet their aspirations. She shares photos of past students with her current students to show them that the world is their oyster, so to speak.

“It’s rewarding because you end up hearing them tell you what type of job they’re doing,” Stith said. “To know that when you had them as a student, they encompassed these types of leadership skills and to now see it come to fruition is mind blowing.”

Stith enjoys “planting seeds” in her students that she hopes will continue to be nurtured and blossom.