Kindergarten teacher Chontel Stephens is the Teacher of the Year for North Smyrna Elementary. Stephens recently took a few minutes to talk about how she got into education and what she enjoys the most about teaching in the Smyrna School District.

Q How do you feel about being named the North Smyrna Elementary Teacher of the Year?

A It was very exciting. I was definitely honored because your coworkers are the ones that vote you in. It's not every day you are recognized for doing something you really love to do.

Q What inspired you to become a teacher?

A Dealing with kids is all I've ever known. Growing up my mom did daycare in the house, my parents were also foster parents, and I have been an aunt since the age of three so I've been around kids all my life. That's where I'm comfortable. That's what I've always enjoyed.

I didn't start out wanting to teach. I actually started out wanting to be a guidance counselor but unfortunately with only a psychology degree you can't really find a job right away so I kind of fell into teaching. I started teaching fifth grade and at the time I was thinking, "Oh this is cool, this is fun." I wanted to counsel adolescents so it was almost the age group I wanted. I didn't realize how much more fun it could be until I came to kindergarten. When I moved to Delaware I couldn't find a job right away. I eventfully got hired to be a long-term sub in kindergarten. I was like, "What y'all get paid the same amount." I just fell in love with the kids' eagerness and innocence. They helped me realize that learning was fun. It's like I get paid to be a kid.

Q What do you enjoy about teaching?

A With kindergarten, I enjoy their excitement. They are pleasers. They also don't hold grudges. When I was teaching fifth grade, a student would be mad for like a week because that's the age group that I was dealing with. With kindergarten, they can be off the wall one minute and the next minute they're like angels again. I really enjoy this age group and their innocence and enthusiasm to learn. I also like when they come back year after year and give me hugs.

Q What's the biggest challenge?

A I think with kindergarten the biggest challenge has been the gap in which they enter my classroom. At the beginning of the school year you have kids who may not have necessarily been in preschool but have been exposed to something and are ready to start reading and writing; they're ready for the next step. On the other hand you'll have students who don't recognize their name, and can barely hold a pencil. I think the gap at the beginning of the year is the biggest struggle.

Q What do you enjoy about working in the Smyrna School District?

A I love working with my team and how family oriented the Smyrna School District is. I enjoy being able to send my kids to a place where I work and am confident they are receiving a great education. I actually live in Smyrna too. Working and living in a small town, teachers are like mini-celebrities. When I go to Walmart everybody's like, "Hey, Mrs. Stephens." I just enjoy working for people who have your best interest in mind and at heart.

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