Blay named LHISD Elementary Teacher of the Year
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Even in her most challenging moments in a classroom full of third graders, Stephanie Blay can’t imagine anything else she’d rather be doing. Teaching is her calling.
That dedication and love for her job shows through to all of those around her, and that’s why she was recently named Liberty Hill ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Blay measures her success by the growth and success of her students, but the recognition of her peers is something special.
“It is extremely humbling just because I feel like there are so many teachers who are deserving of this,” she said. “We all work extremely, incredibly hard every day. We all make sacrifices for this job. It is not a job you can leave at the door when you leave work, it is one you take home with you every day.”
Seeing those around her every day who manage the ups and downs and challenges of teaching just as she does reminds her that any one of them could have received the same honor.
“All good teachers do that, so to be recognized for it is an honor,” she said. “I’m very thankful for the honor, but I feel like I need to share it with every other teacher that works just as hard as me.”
The road to being named Teacher of the Year begins with being Teacher of the Month on your campus, which for Blay is Rancho Sienna.
The third-grade reading teacher was named campus Teacher of the Month in January. In May, the schools voted on a Teacher of the Year among all the monthly winners, and this year, each school winner was asked to fill out an application that included a biography, resume and essays, which were used to select an elementary and secondary Teacher of the Year for the district.
Now Blay is in the running for Region 13 Teacher of the Year, which will be announced Aug. 2, before the top honor of being named Teacher of the Year for the state. That potential honor made Blay’s son’s ears perk up.
“My son plays baseball and football at the high school and he jokes with me that I’m now trying to go to state, too,” Blay said, laughing.
In August, Blay will begin her 13th year of teaching, the last seven of those in Liberty Hill. She taught in Leander for five years before taking six years off to raise her children, then came back to teaching in Liberty Hill.
“I wanted to teach in the district where my kids were,” she said. “Community is super important to me. Being a part of what my kids are part of, as a mom, is very important to me. As a mom, I want to be involved in what they’re involved in and I want to know their friends, their school and their teachers.”
And the district kind of sells itself in Blay’s opinion.
“Liberty Hill is just awesome,” she said. “Why would you not want to teach here?”
Not only does Blay love teaching, she believes it is something she was meant to do.
“I believe it is exactly where I need to be,” she said. “I like to think I have a gift for reaching kids and connecting with them, and being able to teach them academically, but also guide them and connect with them on a level of trust and safety and compassion.”
The very best part is seeing students excited about coming to school every day.
“In the morning I love greeting each of them with a handshake or a hug,” she said. “I like seeing them excited to be there and the love of coming to my classroom and wanting to be a part of that. We all have hard days, and being able to be there for them as a happy place to come to is important to me.”
The challenge of teaching is something Blay calls more of an opportunity, and that is discovering how to meet the needs of every student.
“It’s a challenge but it’s also something you want to strive to accomplish, and that’s meeting all of the kids at their level,” she said. “The hardest thing as a teacher that we’re charged with is being able to meet my student who has the most needs where they are and I’ve also got to meet that student who is excelling and be able to challenge them. And then everybody in between matters just as much. So being able to meet the needs of every child e very day is a huge challenge.”
She’s not afraid of that challenge because on her campus teamwork is the focus.
“It takes a team of us,” Blay said. “There’s a team of us that works together and it is not a job that you do alone because we work collaboratively.”
In what is known on campus as flexible grouping, teachers often take different groups of students, whether in their class or not, to be able to focus on the similar needs of groups of students in teaching a particular lesson.
She has taught both collaboratively and in what is the traditional method of one teacher and one classroom of students.
“It was a completely different mindset then. We went in our classroom, we taught just our kids, they were my kids,” she said. “All of the third graders at Rancho could come in my classroom, any one of them. Now the mindset has shifted to where they are all my kids.”