Khione Stevenson knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was five years old. She dreamed about becoming one for 17 years, and now, at 22 and full of nervous hope, she taught her first day as a full time 5th grade math teacher at Rutledge Elementary School, Aug. 28.
As hundreds of kids in their fresh cuts and new school clothes overflowed into the hallways of Rutledge — some giggling and screaming, others shyly shoegazing — Stevenson began her first day with an overview of classroom procedures and a slew of icebreaker games.
As she stood in front of the class, dressed in black jeans and a plaid shirt — “I want them to know I’m laid back, but firm,” she said — she coolly laid down the rules to the “bean bag game.” In an effort to get everyone acquainted, any student holding a bean bag had to look across to another student, call them by their name, and then pass them the bag. Then they were to cross their arms, to signify they had thrown so every student was involved.
As she spoke, two close friends began to snicker within their side conversation, and Stevenson quickly interjected with “Hey, noises need to stop. Or else I’m going to have to separate y’all.” To which they quickly understood, and complied before gearing up for the game.
At first, the students took a slow, shy pace, but the game soon evolved to child-level chaos with bags flying and lots of clapping and jumping. And yet, Stevenson kept the situation and the noise level under control.
“Now that you’ve got the hang of it, there’s going to be a competition between classes tomorrow,” Stevenson said, grinning. “And I want us to win.”
With that, the students’ interest surged with a new common goal to strive for.
Stevenson, who describes herself as a “golden retriever who’s always excited and doesn’t even know why,” was initially pretty nervous about her first big day at Rutledge. While she had a few years under her belt as a student teacher and substitute while receiving her education at Texas A&M, still the main first day jitter remained — what if they don’t like me?
“If they don’t like the environment and if I don’t, it will be a long year,” Stevenson said. “I’ve just been thinking of ways to be welcoming and approachable to build respect and show that I’m easy going, but there are rules and expectations.”
Stevenson, who graduated from Rouse High School in 2013, spent her student teaching years in Bryan ISD, a Title I school district where at least 30 percent are at or below the poverty line. She said many students had behavior problems, and traditional discipline wasn’t as effective and required a more personal approach. The lessons she learned there helped her understand the importance of building positive relationships with students.
“The way I treat (my students) will matter most,” she said. “They won’t care what I have to say until they know I care about them and I want them to succeed.”
Stevenson’s approach to building relationships with students is part of how she landed the job. Beth Mohler, Rutledge’s principal, said in their job interview Stevenson was able to clearly articulate how she connects with students.
“She is able to describe how she connects with a wide variety of learners and how she is able to help them find the leaders within themselves,” Mohler said. “Building those relationships is crucial to all we do in education. I think (students) will respond to her very well.”
If there wasn’t already a challenge to bonding with her students the first week, Stevenson plans to get her students excited about learning math. Unlike a lot of English coursework, there’s always a logical answer, and it’s something she wants her students to know how to use in life, she said.
As for her first day, while there was plenty of trepidation before school started, it quickly left as the students started pouring in.
“I saw the first student, and I kinda freaked out but then they all started coming in and then I forgot about being scared and I just kind of went with it,” Stevenson said in the aftermath of her first day. “I’m really excited about having my own little babies. I love them already, and I’m excited to see how they grow throughout the year.”