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Teacher of the Year: Stefnie Crites focuses on art of storytelling to connect to her students

Stefnie Crites, a fifth grade ELA teacher and Teacher of the Year for Carrollton Upper Elementary School, poses with some of her students. From left are Rosie Reid, Preston Bagby, Bentley Hardeman, Willis Herman, & Braylen Dodson.

Crites credits third grade teacher as her inspiration

Everyone has a favorite teacher, and for Stefnie Crites, it was her third grade one, Miss Doyle. In fact, Miss Doyle's impression on her was so great Crites decided to emulate her, model her classroom style, tell exciting, vivid stories to help her students learn – just like Miss Doyle.

"It was in her room that I gained a strong foundation in many specialties, but I truly believe that her masterful weaving of the standards is where I gained my love of integration," says Crites. "I began to understand that students learn through stories, even if you have to create one! I am forever grateful to Miss Doyle for being my inspiration and helping to build the confidence I needed to battle those doubts that told me that I was too far behind and would never make it."

Never making it was her fear because Crites started out studying to be a veterinarian and becoming a teacher was the last thing on her mind. But her newfound revelation came during a stressful time – actually a panic attack – during a chemistry oral exam. 

"I somehow managed to muddle my way through it knowing the entire time this was not my path," she recalls. "My mind whirred with excuses – 'your parents will think you are crazy! You have no experience in the field! You have been planning to be a veterinarian since the third grade!' Nonetheless, Miss Doyle tiptoed into my consciousness." 

Crites, a language arts and social studies teacher at Carrollton Upper Elementary School, also learned from Miss Doyle the art of the storyteller or, the more formal term, the orator. 

"Public speaking is not a favorite of students," concedes Crites. "However, I understood that from my own insecurities in public speaking, it is important to create opportunities for understanding. No matter the path, students should leave the classroom a better orator than before. I knew that if they were encouraged to be creative and allowed to bounce ideas off each other in a safe and respectful environment, it would not only be a hit but it would also teach a skill that would serve them for years to come!"

Crites’ impact on her students – as well as other faculty members – led to her selection as Carrollton Upper Elementary School Teacher of the Year for 2022-2023 last spring. She and Teachers of the Year for other district schools – Michael Harvey, Carrollton High School; John Megathlin, Carrollton Junior High; and Tamara Wooten, Carrollton Elementary School, are now vying for the district honor to be announced next month.