Weekend Profile—Stephanie Sanders

Saturday, July 6, 2024



Looking at the Dyer County School System, there are plenty of cases throughout the staff where the phrase “Once a Choctaw, Always a Choctaw” makes for a fitting motto.

Sanders (right) and her husband Bart (middle) have one daughter, Molly, who is also a teacher in the Crockett County School System.
Sanders family/submitted

There are countless stories of teachers, administrators, coaches, and staff who have grown up in the Dyer County School System that have come back to work and serve the children within the system.

Earlier this month, one of those stories got a new chapter as Dyer County High School Assistant Principal Stephanie Sanders was named the school's new principal.

Sanders, a 1987 graduate of Dyer County High School, has been in education for 32 years. In fact, all but four years of her life have been spent with some relation to the Dyer County School System as she is also the daughter a teacher, Connie Carson, who taught elementary school in Newbern.

Sanders said being raised in this setting can lead to family members choosing to stay within that setting. Though the two worked at different levels of education, there was still a lot of “shop talking” between the mother and daughter teachers.

“Since were in two totally different schools, we really didn't interact,” Sanders explained. “But, it was nice to have someone to bounce education ideas off and to be able to communicate about the job.”

The family tradition is carrying on in Sanders' daughter, Molly, is teaching a Alamo Elementary.

“There's a lot of education communication going on in our family,” she said with a smile.

The memories also carry over and are relived in fun ways.

“I can remember during in-services going to my momma's room and helping her set it up,” Sanders recalled. “Then, when I became a teacher, Molly did the same thing. We would be in in-service and she would go up and down Zone 2 setting up everyone's classroom.

“I think it's just ingrained because that is what you know.”

Though she grew up within the education field, it wasn't until her time at Dyer County High School when she decided to become a teacher.

“I had two great high school teachers – Mrs. Linda Meikle and Mrs. Trish Gam,” Sanders said of her influences. “I knew when I had those two that I wanted to be a math teachers.”

Sanders admitted her mother tried to persuade her to go into elementary education, but Stephanie's heart was set on teaching at the high school level.

“That was not my calling,” Sanders added. “I like the high school age.”

During high school, Sanders was a majorette in the DCHS band for a year and also cheered. The latter carried over into her teaching career as she was the cheerleading sponsor for a few years when she first became a teacher.

Following her graduation from the University of Tennessee at Martin, Sanders was hired by Dyer County High School to teach math. The choice was not a hard decision at all for the young teacher.

Though she cheered and took part in band during her high school days, one extracurricular she picked up another job after school – coaching the Lady Choctaw softball team.

“I coached softball, believe it or not,” Sanders recalled the story. “Mr. (John) Snider came by one day and asked me what I know about softball.

“I said, 'I know it's bigger than a baseball'. He said, 'congratulations, you're the new softball coach'.”

Just getting hired by the same school system where she grew up it was like coming home for Sanders.

“It was really nice to have the support of people you knew,” Sanders explained. “You knew who you could go to.

“I got to work with Mrs. Gam. That was an experience, working with a role model.”

With spending her whole career at Dyer County High School and going to UT-Martin which is about an hour away from home, Sanders admitted she is a bit of a homebody for this area. That doesn't stop her from making an escape during the year.

“The beach is my favorite place to go,” Sanders explained. “We try to go there at least once a year. It's relaxing and I love to read. So, there, you get to sit and read all day.”

Over the years, Sanders has learned as well as teach. One of the lessons she took with her into administration when she was promoted to assistant principal before the 2014-15 school year is to be fair and consistent – always.

“Just treat everybody the same and treat everybody the way you want to be treated,” Sanders added. “People are people. Everybody wants to be treated with kindness.

“They just want you to be fair and listen. What you do for one, you do for all.”

Sanders added that making decisions based on what is best for the students is very important in administration.

One of the rewarding experiences she has had is a big one – getting to see the successes of the people she has helped along the way.

“It's just getting to see the students you've taught and what they do beyond high school,” Sanders said. “The successes they have. Seeing what they've done with their life, seeing their families.”

Getting to see these students become colleagues is also rewarding. A school and community the size of Dyer County's (area and school system) can breed this kind of loyalty. The numbers can support this.

“Considering how many we have that come back throughout our district, I definitely think it does,” Sanders said. “It goes back to 'Once a Choctaw, Always a Choctaw'.”

Sanders heads into her first school year as Dyer County's new principal. She spoke about getting named to the position to help lead the school she loves into the future.

“I was honored to get the position,” Sanders said. “I love this school. I love this school system. I love the students and the staff.

“I am glad to be able to continue the family atmosphere we have within this building.”

Sanders added the family atmosphere is very important to the school.

“And, with us being in our community – which is so tight-knit, I think it bleeds over into the school,” Sanders said.

Working under good influences will also be a benefit for Sanders.

“I have worked under three great principals – John Snider, Peggy Dodds, and Laura Brimm,” Sanders said. “They have all three had a big influence on me as an administrator.”

The new high school principal also added it takes a team to make things work in the school.

“It takes everybody in this building to make what it is,” Sanders explained. “I think everybody is always better if their team is good.”

Moving into the future, Sanders said she hopes to be sitting in the same seat five years down the road. Keep in mind, teachers and administrators in the Dyer County School System can retire after 30 years of service and Sanders has served the last 32. There is a reason she is staying – she's not ready to retire.

“I love what I do,” Sanders said. “I think that, if you find a job where you love what you do, it's not really a job.”

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