Posted on 08 October 2014.
Heather Stephens is only about six weeks into her new job as a third grade English language arts teacher at Chico Elementary, but she already has unique insights into some of her students’ lives.
You learn quite a bit about what’s going on when you’re a 911 dispatcher.
POSITIVE RETURNS – New third grade teacher Heather Stephens is enjoying getting to know her students at Chico Elementary. She previously taught a year at a school in Henderson and has spent several years as a dispatcher for the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
Stephens worked fulltime in the communications department at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office from 2006 to 2010, when she moved to Henderson for a student teaching job at Wylie Elementary. When she became pregnant with her second child, she and her husband decided to move back to Wise County to be closer to his family.
She returned in the summer of 2013 and once again joined the communications division of the sheriff’s office. This year, she was hired as a third grade teacher at Chico. While she is now a full-time teacher, she still works part time as a dispatcher when needed.
“One of the girls here asked me, ‘How can you work at the sheriff’s office and work here (at school)?'” she said. “I’ve always done it. You have to work. When I was in college, I competed on the equestrian team, I had a full load at school and I worked at Tractor Supply.
“I don’t know what I would do if I had too much time off.”
Stephens said she enjoys aspects of both jobs, but each comes with unique challenges.
“At the sheriff’s office, when you leave for the day, your work’s done. But it weighs on you emotionally,” she said.
“Here, your work continues because you are building on concepts, and the kids are in your heart. They affect you differently – being able to see their struggles – but it’s not as much of a negative aspect as the sheriff’s office.”
There, she noted, “you see a lot of death.”
As a dispatcher, Stephens often has to talk to people in the midst of the most traumatic situations of their lives. Working at the sheriff’s office, she also is aware of the kinds of things criminals are capable of doing.
She may have just met her students this year, but she’s often aware of the history of the neighborhoods where they live.
“I kind of get a good sense of what their home life struggles are a little bit more because on some of their addresses, I’ve taken many calls at their houses,” Stephens said. “Some of them live close to other incidents that I’ve taken involving thefts or narcotics. You can’t say that every family is that way on that road, but you kind of have an idea of what they see every day and what they deal with.”
Armed with that knowledge, Stephens said in her classroom, she tries to nurture their hearts as well as their minds – even if it’s just a compliment on their clothes matching, or saying they did a good job brushing their hair. It might be the only positive comment they receive all day.
But it’s not just the students who get the positive vibes. Stephens said she likes how her students are still young enough to see the needs of others and take action.
“With the kids, especially at this age, they’re still eager to help others,” she said. “Especially in third grade, you don’t have a lot of bullying or the ‘I’m better than you’ personalities. Generally when you see a kid struggling, or their feelings are hurt, they’ll come over to make sure they are taken care of.”
In a way, Stephens’ two jobs are strikingly similar, whether as a dispatcher she’s staying on the line with someone who is threatening to take their own life, saying a few encouraging words to someone whose house is on fire or whose loved one is seriously injured, or nurturing a child with a smile, a positive comment or an enlightening lesson.
Principal Karen Decker said Stephens has been a wonderful addition to the school.
“She is so upbeat and knowledgeable,” Decker said. “She is a very giving teacher, making efforts to meet every child’s individual academic and social needs. She brings a plethora of excitement to our campus – and staff, students and parents alike are thrilled to have her at Chico Elementary School.”