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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

DHS Teacher of the Year challenges students, himself

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There are individuals that have aspirations of becoming an educator and molding young minds. These individuals go to college, endure countless hours of instruction and eventually receive a degree, and with it, a huge responsibility to shape and challenge future generations. Mark Stenberg, who was recently recognized as Dyersburg High School's Teacher of the Year, was not one of those individuals.

Stenberg grew up in Michigan, the son of a community college professor and from a family that was active in the community's school systems. Whether it was serving on school boards, volunteering for bake sales, or participating in the youth programs, Stenberg's family did it all. As a young adult he was encouraged to follow in his father's footsteps and go into teaching, but Stenberg did not believe it was his calling at the time.

Stenberg instead decided to work in manufacturing and eventually joined the Tennessee Army National Guard. He attended the Tennessee Military Academy and was commissioned as an officer, reaching the rank of captain during his 14-year career. Attached to the National Guard Armory in Milan, it was there that Stenberg first realized that he enjoyed educating people, as part of his duties included planning and evaluating training for the soldiers under his command.

Stenberg joined Print Pak in Jackson for the last nine years of his non-teaching career where he came across an increasing number of young people that lacked basic math skills, initiative and proficiency in reading and writing. He saw an opportunity to teach them, but at the same time felt he was not doing enough and decided it was time to answer that call that began so long ago.

"There are a lot of phenomenal people working in factories that never had the opportunity to go to college," said Stenberg. "A lot of kids will enter that (manufacturing) world but I was finding that many did not even have the basic skills to succeed in manufacturing."

After returning to graduate school at then Bethel College to obtain his Master of Arts in Teaching, Stenberg began teaching United States history to eighth-graders at McKenzie Middle School.

"I have never been more afraid than I was that first day," said Stenberg. "Most people underestimate the amount of responsibility teachers have for shaping and molding kids."

Stenberg turned out to be a pretty good teacher. His courses were challenging and his desire was to make students think. To Stenberg, the ability to read something, analyze it and extrapolate a thought and form an opinion on it is an invaluable skill that can be applied to any facet of your life.

"If my students have a good life and are successful in their own way no matter what they're doing and I had any part in that, then I would like to think that I did my job," said Stenberg.

Stenberg's challenging nature is not limited to his students as he is constantly challenging himself, which is one of the reasons he made the change in 2008 to come to DHS.

"I knew within the first few weeks that I was going to have to do way better," said Stenberg, who teaches U.S. history and government courses as well as AP U.S. history at DHS.

He says his peers and their determination to be the best amazed him. Stenberg says that in his eight-year teaching career the vast majority of the teachers he has worked with are doing great things, and comparing education here in the U.S. to other foreign nations is not a fair comparison.

"Our goal in this country is to provide a free public education to everyone," said Stenberg. "Not every country does that. Do we want to compare ourselves to other countries that discriminate against students?"

Stenberg says that his career in manufacturing and in the National Guard have given him an edge in some areas over his peers because he has the ability to pay attention to the most insignificant details, and learned during his non-traditional career paths that even rules you do not like are rules that you follow.

City School Superintendent Neel Durbin had high praise for Stenberg at a recent school board meeting, saying that the students in his class do not have it easy and his goal is to make each of them think. Stenberg for his part is humbled by his recent recognition and stated that while he is flattered to be considered for the recognition, his greatest achievement will be the future achievement of his former students.

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