Hailing from generations of educators, Ketia Stokes, a special education teacher at Green Street Academy, a Baltimore City charter school, was named 2013 Teacher of the Year , an acknowledgement she said she never expected.
Stokes, 33, spoke to the AFRO, talking about her passion: education.
AFRO: How did you feel about being named 2013 Teacher of the Year?
STOKES: It was quite a shock because in teaching, it’s not a profession you get into because you are looking for awards or accolades. It’s something you do because you feel children deserve the very best. I felt I was doing what everybody (student) deserved.
AFRO: How did that recognition make you feel?
STOKES: When I really stepped back and thought what it meant, I don’t think it really hit me until I saw numerous emails from parents from different districts and other special educators. I thought ‘Oh my goodness, finally a special educator is acknowledged for the depth of the work we do.’ This award lets parents know they have an advocate or a voice in the autism community. Receiving this award made me feel like what I have been working for was that goal of making quality education that what I’m doing is working.
AFRO: You have a fraternal twin sister, Lekia Stokes, who was born with a brain tumor, how did she inspire you to get into education?
STOKES: Yes, she was born with a brain tumor. Doctors said she wouldn’t live past 5 years of age, and she is still here today. She suffers from developmentally disabilities and medically doctors said there was nothing that could be done. Because of her, it’s been [my] life mission to make special education [my career] because she had a lot of challenges to overcome. It has always been important for me to make quality education something that doesn’t have to occur outside of the school setting.
AFRO: How long have you been an educator? Where did you attend school?
STOKES: For seven years, I’ve been an educator. After graduation, I worked as a resource coordinator for troubled youth. I was trying to drill down to the root cause of why they were getting in trouble, and a lot of what I saw was … disconnected from schools and … disconnected from education. Getting into education was a calling that I ran from for a period of time because everybody in my family was an educator and I didn’t really quite understand the importance of someone following through on their passion. Teaching is something you have to have the passion for it’s a calling. It’s not something that is considered a job. I attended James Madison University for undergraduate school and Coppin State University for graduate school. I received a undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders focusing on speech pathology and my master’s degree in special education. I recently completed my administrative certification at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
AFRO: What are some of your major accomplishments?
STOKES: The first two years of the school there wasn’t a great focus on accepting diversity and embracing it, so in the past few years I really worked to get the students in my class to go from just being “those” students with autism to their names. This year we really celebrated Autism Awareness month for the first time and it was amazing. Parents were amazed and shocked because for the first time they felt really comfortable in sending their child to school. I am also one of the founding members of Green Street Academy.
AFRO: What do you think constitutes as a great teacher?
STOKES: I understand and know the life a parent has to live beyond the walls of a classroom. As much as I can, I try to create an extended family for them. It’s about trying to make a safe place where children can come and they won’t have to feel like others are judging them, but they feel like they are in an environment of love. I think beyond the education, I think for my sister and myself, that it’s the strength of knowing your loved and quality relationships that really pushes you.
If I can’t do anything else, I want the families of my students to have the confidence that they have a teacher who’s going to do whatever it takes, to find whatever method it takes to make breakthroughs with their child. I want parents to know they have a teacher that loves their child the way they come to me, but I also love them enough to push them beyond that point because I know and understand a disability is not the finish line. It’s just the starting point.
AFRO: What’s next for you?
STOKES: My love for teaching has been reinvigorated with being in a specialized program. Home is where the heart is and my heart is truly there—at Green Street Academy. I really want to see how we, at the school, can develop the concept and broaden our special education program in Baltimore City. My hope is for it to be more comprehensive and holistic, not just for the child, but for the family as well. I want see huge strides and huge gains for that particular population.