Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider

A little girl assembled her favorite stuffed-animals next to her younger brothers as she prepared them for a spelling test. The spelling tests were a frequent occurrence in the home located in the small town of Kingman, AZ. In school, the same little girl appreciated every opportunity she had to assist her teacher. She knew immediately she had a passion for teaching others– whether it was her stuffed-animals, younger brothers or fellow classmates. Today, she is a 10th grade teacher in Tucson. Meet this week's Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider!

When it comes to the future, no other group makes as much of a difference as educators. Without teachers, the future would be empty. Youth wouldn't receive mentoring and guidance to pursue their bigger dreams. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I found it fitting to highlight a teacher. Tenaya is among the 3.1 million full-time teachers in the United States. She was inspired by her teachers who encouraged her to pursue higher, academic goals.

"A teacher can change the direction of your life," Tenaya said. "Teachers did that for me: my third grade teacher, Mrs. Keller, knew I wasn't challenged enough in class and would assign me additional work; and my AP English and literature teacher, Mrs. Gaska, pushed my class harder than I had ever experienced!"

Growing up, Tenaya was already younger in her class because of the registration cut-off dates. Her age gap among her peers only widened when she skipped 5th grade. She found herself graduating high school at 16 years old, and began her journey to receive a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Arizona under a scholarship. Through student teaching, Tenaya realized what grade she wanted to teach.

"I had volunteered in a 4th grade classroom for two years, and while I loved my experiences, I knew elementary school wasn't my thing," Tenaya said.

Tenaya sought out a teaching certification from Pima Community College instead of obtaining a master's because it was more financially achievable. Shortly after, she began student teaching with a mentor teacher at Canyon del Oro (CDO) High School.

"I was only 20 and I was student teaching seniors– 17 and 18-year-olds!" Tenaya exclaimed with a smile. "Successfully doing my student teaching made me feel like I could handle anything in a classroom."

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider

Student teaching at a younger age in a high school did present a few obstacles.

"Students don't have as much automatic respect as they do for older teachers," Tenaya said. "I get a lot of 'you remind me of my older sister' and it makes classroom management more difficult but it also means I relate to my students in a different way."

She quickly concluded if she's consistent in her expectations then the age difference isn't always relevant. She is grateful the students confide in her whether it's school or their personal lives.

"I tell students that my door is always open for whatever they need," Tenaya said. "I've given advice on physics tests, break-ups, what college to go to, how to deal with Mom and Dad, everything. I always want my students to know that no matter what, they have my support."

The students, in-turn love to support Tenaya's achievements. Last year, Tenaya achieved one of her life-long goals of being on Jeopardy. She was one of 16 teachers selected out of the 70,000 applicants to play on the show with the iconic Alex Trebek.

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider
Photo courtesy of: Jeopardy! Productions, Inc.

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider
Photo courtesy of: Jeopardy! Productions, Inc.

The CDO students held much excitement for their teacher as she competed for the grand prize of $100,000. Even though she didn't win, Tenaya did receive grant money to buy new textbooks for her pre-AP English class.

"I'm lucky that I've had a few students tell me that I've influenced them," said Tenaya. "Two girls who graduated last year are both in college studying to be high school English teachers, and both told me it was because my class inspired them."

Tenaya is on her fourth year of teaching both English and pre-AP English at CDO High School. This academic year also marks her first year as a student government adviser. She enjoys working more directly with the students and more activities at the school. Such activities included raising $5,000 for a local girl from Make-a-Wish Foundation; the student government successfully raised the funds for the girl to go to the Rockefeller Center in NYC for Christmas.

"I love CDO. The community in our school is amazing. I have incredible coworkers and great students," Tenaya said.

Tenaya enjoys multiples parts of her job but when asked what she loves most, the answer is easy.

"The most rewarding aspect is when you see the light bulb go off for a student," Tenaya said. "Every so often I see a student light up when they finally understand a concept and it is by far the most rewarding feeling!"

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Tenaya Snider
Photo courtesy of: Jeopardy! Productions, Inc.

Q&A with Tenaya Snider
1. What motivates you to succeed?
I have two motivations. One is my students. I realize that I am a role model for them, even unconsciously, so I want to make sure that I inspire them to work hard and strive for their goals. My other motivation is my father, who has a rare degenerative neuromuscular disease and never gives up. He has had an incredibly fulfilling life and I want to succeed in all that I do so that I can both make him proud and have a similarly fulfilling life. 

2. Who inspires you?
I had two incredible teachers growing up. One was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Keller, who recognized that I was not being challenged enough in class and took time every week to stay after school and give me additional work. We wrote stories together every week and she inspires me to give back to my students. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Gaska, is probably the most inspirational person I know. I had her for both AP English Language and Composition and AP Literature, and she pushed me (and every student) harder than we ever had before. She was also a teacher who made me feel like I mattered as a person, not just another student in her class. That feeling has never left me and I strive to share that with every single student who comes through my classroom. I still use some of the materials that she taught me with in my own classroom! She taught for 42 years before retiring a few years ago, and I am still very close with her. 

3. Your biggest achievement?
Honestly, my biggest achievement was being part of the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament last year! I've been trying out for Jeopardy every year since I was 16 and to finally make it on was the most incredible experience. Even though I didn't win, I was rewarded with a grant for my classroom (which I used to buy new books for my pre-AP students!) and I was able to meet 15 other educators from across the US. 

Other big achievements include graduating from U of A at age 19 and becoming the student government adviser. 

4. Goals for the future?
Professionally, my goals include getting my Masters in Gifted Education and becoming an International Baccalaureate teacher. I hope to start my masters in the next few years and I'm working on becoming involved in the IB program. I want to work in gifted education because I was a gifted student, and I've always felt that there need to be more options for those kids. The school I teach at has lots of opportunities for those students, but not all do. 

Personally, my goals include reading all 206 books on the Barnes and Noble classics list (I'm in the 70s) and visiting all 50 states (I've been to 25). I also am hoping to read 52 books (one a week) again this year--I read 57 last year! So far I'm at 19. 

5. What advice would you give to others?
My biggest piece of advice is to find your passion. My dad has always told me that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I find this true every day. There are some days when I hate grading, or a student frustrates me, but I love my job. I enjoy going to work and I love being involved in my school! 

6. What do you do for fun?
I obviously love to read, as evidenced by my goals. I also really love cooking; I have dinner parties with a group of friends every week. Traveling has always been a love of mine and I've been to Europe three times. This summer I'm heading to Yosemite National Park (where my brother works) and I hope to do some hiking there. I'm also road tripping to Tennessee so I'll be able to check some more states off of my list! 

7. Favorite quote or Bible verse?
My favorite quote is a line of poetry from Li Young-Lee. It comes from a poem called "One Heart" and reads "even flying/ is born out of nothing." To me, this means that nothing is impossible. Everything must start somewhere. If I believe this, then I can achieve all of my goals.


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