Jenna Stephenson did not set out to be a teacher.

When she graduated from Murray County High School in Slayton, Stephenson really was not sure what career path she wanted to pursue.

“I knew I liked science,” said Stephenson, who grew up in Lake Wilson.

So, she enrolled at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall where she earned a degree in biology. She also studied chemistry and was just a few credits shy of earning a double major.

All along the way, others were encouraging Stephenson to consider a career in education, but she opted for a different route and started studying biomedical science at the University of South Dakota.

Stephenson was not there long before she determined that was not what she wanted to do. So, she stopped pursuit of that plan.

Stephenson continued to hear the “you should be a teacher” message but wanted nothing to do with it.

In the end, she finally acquiesced and returned to school to earn a Masters degree in teaching science education from Western Governor’s University.

Along the way, Stephenson started working as a substitute teacher, and while she admitted being a sub is a challenging task she discovered being in the classroom was something she enjoyed.

A long-term substitute teaching position in the Cedar Mountain School District solidified her plans, and one year ago she took on her first role in education.

“I taught fifth-, sixth- and eighth-grade science in Renville,” said Stephenson. Stephenson said she considers her year in the Renville County West School District as a positive one, but when a local job opened up, she applied and was hired to teach chemistry at Redwood Valley High School.

Due to the fact there is such a shortage of science teachers, Stephenson was allowed to teach chemistry while she continues to pursue her chemistry education licensure. Stephenson said she passed the test to teach chemistry but now just needs some additional teaching experience in that subject before she will be fully licensed.

Moving to the high-school level as an educator has been an interesting transition for Stephenson, but she said the opportunity to work with older students is something she appreciates.

This semester she is teaching general chemistry, honors chemistry and a college level chemistry class, and during the second semester of the current year she will add experience teaching ninth-grade science.

Having spent some time serving as a substitute teacher in the local district provided some familiarity with the system, and Stephenson said many of the students recognized her from those opportunities. That, she added, has helped to make the transition smoother.

Stephenson said she has always liked science, adding as a teacher she can find ways to make what she is teaching applicable to the lives of students. 

Yes, she admitted, not every student who walks into her classroom is going to be excited about learning chemistry, which is a required course to earn a high-school diploma.

That means finding ways to be creative in her approach to presenting it to them.

Stephenson said she surveyed the students at the beginning of the school year to gauge what kinds of attitudes she was dealing with, and from that survey she started offering opportunities for those students who are struggling to get extra help in understanding the concepts to ensure they can keep up as their class continues.

Having her own room and being a classroom teacher is quite a bit different from serving in a substitute teaching role, and Stephenson said having served in both capacities she has a deeper appreciation for both roles.

Stephenson is primarily interacting with members of the junior class, but she also has a few seniors who still need to take chemistry and the college-level chemistry class she teaches is made up of members of the class that will graduate this spring.

As Stephenson continues to acclimate herself to the new role as an educator at the high school level, she is continuing to seek out ways to best present chemistry to her students.

In the future Stephenson said she would like to get involved in extra-curricular activities related to academic pursuits rather than athletics, adding she sees those after-school opportunities as a way to develop different types of connections with students.

“That is when you get to see more of their personalities,” said Stephenson.

Stephenson, and her husband, Collin, who is a music teacher in the local district, are currently spending any free time they have fixing up their home.

Education is in Stephenson’s blood, as her mom has spent several years as a paraprofessional in the Pipestone School District. She also has a couple of aunts in education, and her sister is a teacher in the New London-Spicer School District.

Stephenson said when she finally settled on a career in education, her family confirmed that decision, adding it was about time she did what they all knew she was supposed to be doing.