A Conversation with Alexandria Stewart

A LOVE FOR TEACHING  Alexandria Stewart, the 2019 IPS Teacher of the Year, didn’t begin her career path going the education route, but got bit by the teaching bug while a student at Marquette University in Wisconsin.

Becoming an educator wasn’t a straight-line path for Alexandria Stewart.

She enrolled in Marquette University as a freshman set on being in the medical field, but didn’t find fulfillment in the curriculum or those large, lecture-style biology and chemistry classes.

Her switch to speech pathology and audiology was a good fit. “I really enjoyed that it was more hands-on and that I got to work in clinics with kids, but it still wasn’t quite right,” said Stewart.

It wasn’t until she took an Introduction to Education class — a requirement for speech pathology — that also delved into child development, when everything clicked for Stewart.

“I went to my advisor’s office and asked if I could do both (speech pathology and education), and he said no,” said Stewart. “My advisor said, ‘When you talk about the school stuff, you sound different and you look different, and I think you need to try it.’”

Nearly five years into her teaching career, Stewart’s love for the profession continues to grow.

The Indianapolis native and middle school teacher at Center for Inquiry School 70 has been recognized for her work in the classroom, receiving the title of 2019’s IPS Teacher of the Year — a role she’ll serve throughout the 2018-19 school year. Her monthly Teacher of the Year column will debut in September on the IPS website and in the district’s Achiever newsletter.

When she’s not in the classroom, Stewart plays on an adult soccer league, does yoga, explores the city with friends, volunteers at Indy Urban Acres and is a member of the School on Wheels’ young professional group.

Here are excerpts from a recent conversation with Stewart.

Choosing IPS …

“Coming to IPS was a choice. It was a tough decision to come over, not because it was IPS, but because I did love where I was (Westlane Middle School in Washington Township) and I loved the student population that I was serving.

The timing just worked out well. My assistant principal and principal retired … and them retiring made it a little bit easier for me to go. I specifically wanted to be in a smaller environment. I just have this weird anxiety of not being able to get a kid where they need to be (academically) and Westlane was so big and there are so many kids that needed that, but I just felt like I was going to burn out. So, the opportunity was nice to be able to go to smaller spot and still serve a diverse population, but maybe not burn out as much.”

What she likes about IPS …

“I love being involved with people, relationship-building and working with different populations. You don’t always get that in a school. At least, for me, I’ve always sought to be in buildings where that’s the case. I don’t know if people quite know how diverse CFI 70 is, but it truly has all of those components. That’s what I love about it. I think right now, it’s the best thing for me.”

Difficulties of being an educator …

“Sometimes you get tired and bogged down, and I’m sure most teachers feel like that at some point in the year. But then during the day, there’s something that happens and you forget about that feeling and you do what you’re supposed to be doing or handling and you look back and you’re like, ‘OK, yeah, that was important today.’”

Daily goal in the classroom …

“I think it changes. I try to be super reflective with my classroom and I think there are different times when I say, ‘OK, you need to talk to this kid today. You need to make sure that they feel like you saw them.’”

Why she uses the student-centered learning approach …

“There was a push for this a while ago, so I think most teachers use this now. But it’s kind of where your classroom is run by what your students are doing and what they’re thinking and questioning. Students are the drivers of the learning and you’re more of a facilitator. It’s less of the lecture and more of the inquiry, and I think that most teachers are doing that even if you’re not part of CFI. We have a wonderful program with great initiatives, by a lot of buildings have best practices and implementation.”

What happens to students during student-centered learning …

“It hits in different ways. It helps with motivation, because they are more motivated to take hold of what they’re doing and that responsibility piece, and they’re accountable. It helps some kids find their voice. … Kids can truly value what they’re learning because they feel like they are a part of it and not feel that it was just given to them. So, it adds that confidence and that risk-taking and that motivation to be a part of what they’re learning.”

Her legacy as a teacher …

“The academics are huge, but then there are those character pieces like grit. I talk about grit all the time with my colleagues because you have to be able to do things that are hard and believe that you can. That’s not something that you can necessarily teach. You can teach by example maybe, but you can’t say, ‘Come on, get the grit.’ It’s over time. So, from a legacy standpoint, that would be something that I would hope comes out of me being in the classroom with kids.”

What grit gives people …

One of our goals at school is to prepare students to be successful outside the walls of the school building. … I think grit helps the confidence piece, the risk-taking and the reality of what the world is like. You just have to do it. If you fail, you fail.