Laura Stedman*


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Laura (left) and Terry English during an in-service training, 1995

Abundant Rewards

By Laura Stedman

One day in science class, we were reviewing the topic of the animal cell. The students had memorized what they needed to know to pass the national standardized exam, and for that I was pleased. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing. Where was the spark? They dismissed and shied away from my requests for their opinions. The students refused to offer their own possible explanations for experiments and observations. Instead, they wanted to know what the ‘right’ answer was. They didn’t seem to consider that there were mysteries and secrets of nature, that there was more to know than what the examine cared to test. I asked myself: “Do they recognize the magnificence that takes place here in the cell? Why don’t they share their thoughts? Do they understand the topic? Do they care?” I was frustrated because I felt that I was unable to really reach them.

I was having doubts about teaching until I found a diagram in the back of one my students’ notebooks. This diagram changed my perspective on teaching. In her notebook, the student had drawn the unlikely comparison of an animal cell to a Swazi homestead. She had given the grandmother of the homestead the role of the nucleus. The mitochondria, the organelle which supplies energy to the cell, was represented by the sisters.

I called her into the staff room and asked her to explain what she had written. At first she thought she was in trouble. Then she started to open up. She explained that she had given the grandmother the role of the nucleus because “grandmother decodes when and how things get done.”

As she continued I began to see that she had indeed understood the intimate workings of the cell. I was proud of her, and I told her. “But Miss,” she said, “I don’t know why you’re happy. I only did this from my own mind to help me understand this better.”

“I know,” I said. “That is why I am proud of you.”

I began to understand that young men and women need confidence in themselves and their own worth, as well as direction for their critical thought. With this in mind, I changed my teaching methods to encourage not just academic achievement but also emotional growth. Something magical started to happen in that class. Students started to see themselves as having worthwhile opinions and were not afraid of sharing them. I saw students taking risks in their ideas and growing from them. I felt truly honored and privileged to be part of it.

My love of teaching is genuine. Teaching provides a unique opportunity to learn something new from young people while guiding them toward their goals. The work is challenging and the rewards abundant.

Laura Stedman (Swaziland 1993-1995) Laura taught high school science in Swaziland. She has a B.S. in Biological Sciences and is from Portland, Maine.


Laura Stedman, Obituary: From the Portland Press Herald, January 1996



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5 Responses to Laura Stedman*

  1. Sean Stedman says:

    I am Laura’s brother Sean. Not a day goes by that our parents and sisters not think of Laura. We miss her.

  2. Andrew Thurber says:

    Laura attended training as my service in Swaziland was nearing an end, and we were all touched by her passion and the community that she quickly created. She became a friend to us all.
    I’m fortunate to live in Vermont and often drive by St. Michael’s Fire & Rescue. I’m always touched by the respect shown to her by the tree they planted and the plaque in her honor.

  3. Robert Blau RPCV says:

    Laura was in my group, she is missed to this day. She used to sing perfectly the morning assembly songs the students sang.

  4. Amy LaRow says:

    Laura was a beloved friend of mine and a member of St. Michael’s Fire and Rescue who is truly missed. I will always remember her smile and enthusiasm towards life.

  5. Laura was a beloved member of St. Michael’s Fire & Rescue where she served as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician while in college.

    Laura’s volunteer service to the department, and to the Peace Corps, lives on in the actions of our current membership and is memorialized by a plaque which has hung in the station since 1995 and soon on a piece of granite which will be laid in a new memorial area built at the station.