From Typewriters to the internet: Debbie Stephens career as a business teacher at Carthage High School spanned a revolution in the business world and she had to adjust to most of those changes on her own.
Debbie Stephens career as a business teacher at Carthage High School spanned a revolution in the business world and she had to adjust to most of those changes on her own.
When Stephens started teaching in Carthage 20 years ago, that stalwart of the 20th century business class, the typewriter, was still a part of the curriculum, although it was fading.
Since then, the world of business has changed to the point where almost nothing she learned in college has any relevance in her classroom today.
“There isn't anything I had in college that I'm teaching, except for the concepts,” Stephens said. “Classroom management, things like that, they are the same, but as far as the content, that's totally changed. I barely had typewriters when I started, not for very long. Then with the Apple 2Es and the different computers, and the internet, all of it has changed.”
Growing up in Texas, Stephens went to college at Evangel University in Springfield.
Her first job out of college in 1986 was as a teachers aid under Carthage Superintendent Dr. Charles Johnson. She taught at Golden City and Diamond before returning to Carthage 20 years ago.
In that time, she's taught every business class offered at CHS, and helped develop many of them.
“I started the webpage class, I started the desktop publishing classes with Photoshop, definitely my technology classes have changed over the years, exponentially,” Stephens said. “Every year has been different, either new software, new content, which is one thing I like about business, it's always changing, and technology. I've always kept on the technology side of the business department.”
Stephens said she's had to teach herself the skills needed to teach the world of business to her students.
“It's all self-taught. I had to learn almost everything myself, at workshops and through tutorials or buy books and figure it out,” Stephens said. “I've had great support here, and at the tech center. With the funding we've had, it has enable me to have top of the line equipment, and they've been very good about sending me to workshops where I can learn how to use the technology, because I didn't have it in college.”
When she started at CHS, she also took over as advisor of the Future Business Leaders of America, also known as FBLA.
Stephens said she's particularly proud of the success the Carthage FBLA has achieved over the years.
Stephens said when she started, the group had about 30 members — this year it had 150.
The local chapter also earned enough points to earn the title Gold Level Chapter of the year, an award Carthage FBLA has earned every year since the award was started five years ago.
“You have to have at least 500 points on a point system,” she said. “You get points for having officers, whether that be state, district and local officers, attending so many workshops, national workshops, conferences, and holding community service events, a bunch of them. It's a whole gamut of things you have to apply. It's very difficult to do but we've been really active and been able to do that.
“This was a great year, we had eight students place for nationals, and we won first place in state and several different second place awards. The report we got first place in was American Enterprise, that's the project where we went to Steadley and worked with students there to teach them how business works.”
Stephens said advising the FBLA is a team effort.
“It's the department, FBLA is not just mine,” Stephens said. “We've got a good group of business teachers so we have different business teachers take parts of the group. That's always been something I wanted, I didn't want it to just be one person as FBLA advisor, so all of us are part of it, and we all take it to our classrooms and encourage them to join and be involved.”
Stephens said the community has played a big role in the success of the CHS business program.
She said the business teachers at CHS meet with an advisory committee of local business leaders to learn what skills students will need to be successful outside high school.
“We meet with them twice a year and we tell them what we teach, and we ask them what should we teach, what do you want our students to know when they're your employees,” Stephens said. “That's really good and valuable information because they tell us specific things. Usually it's things like soft skills and such, but specific things; interviewing, what they're looking for in interviews; obviously social media skills, make sure we tell our students that yes, they really are watching social media. Having our community members tell us specifically things about our classes has been really helpful, it keeps us current so we know what's out there and we can share that with our students.”
Stephens said she feels more pressure to stay ahead of the curve as far as the leading edge of business needs because students will use the skills she's teaching directly out of high school.
“That's why it's practical arts,” Stephens said. “There's more direct correlation between what I teach and what students use when they leave high school.”
Stephens said she gets the most satisfaction from watching her students grow after graduation and use the skills she has taught them.
“When I go to Walmart, I never come out of there without seeing at least a couple of my previous students,” She said. “It makes it fun, I like living in the community where I've taught just because I see so many former students and I see them with their children and see them growing up and hear their success stories. Sometimes they'll email me back and talk about things they learned in my class and how it's relating to their life and helping their life, those are what really makes teaching fun and meaningful.”
She said students frequently tell her that skills she taught them have come in handy whether they went out to the work world or went to college.
“I teach a dual credit class and we do a lot of in-depth Excel projects,” Stephens said. “So hearing back from the students and hearing them tell me specifically that they did something that they learned from those projects in their work, that things that I taught them in class they actually needed it and used it in their careers, that's nice.”
She said she really enjoyed the eight years she had with with her own children, Lane, now 26, and Lacy, now 22.
“I had the two of them for eight years in a row, those were fun times,” Stephens said. “Those were the most memorable times, when they were in school and in FBLA with me, those were very special.”