Spotlight: Becky Streff (NE '18)March 14, 2019
With new students each year, changing curriculum and standards, and jobs that require 21st-century skills, Becky Streff (NE ’18) sees professional development and sharing best practices as an essential part of being an educator: “I need to change my practices to help prepare students for their futures.” She received Nebraska’s 2018-19 Milken Educator Award at North Bend Central Elementary on March 4, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: You focus on writing skills with your students. What’s the biggest challenge fifth-graders have with writing? Why is this such an important part of your classroom?
Becky Streff: I love to write and want my students to experience the joy of writing too. A lot of times students find writing hard because either it bores them or they find all the thought processes and steps difficult. When writing is manageable and attainable, it’s fun. By the end of the year I want them leaving my classroom feeling like they are writers.
I also use writing as a cross-curricular connection. The only way I will be able to see what students are thinking is if they write about it. I want students to defend their answers in math, so they write how they solved their work. Students write about books so I can see their thought processes in reading.
Writing is a lifelong skill that they will need for their future. Doing it as often as possible sets students up for success and gives me insight into my next steps to help them learn the content.
MFF: How did you land in education?
Becky: I have always wanted to be a teacher. I would teach my dolls and my brother all the time. I probably even taught our farm animals! I begged my parents to let me start preschool early. I remember waiting for the school bus, eager for each day of school to come.
As I grew up I did all I could to surround myself with young children. I love their passion, curiosity, and zest for life and learning. In high school I babysat as much as I could and I taught kindergarten Sunday school. I remember spending my Saturday nights planning for Sunday school and loving every minute of the details that went into the plans. I have always found joy in learning and want to pass that joy on to my students.
MFF: Why elementary school?
Becky: I love the new adventure that happens every day in the classroom. There is never a dull moment. Students want to do well and are eager to learn and please. I love our discussion. I do not know all the answers, and I love that—it allows students to have ownership over their learning and creates project-based learning opportunities within the classroom.
I think influencing young people and being a role model to them is one of the most important jobs. I want to instill in students the desire to dream and aim high, whatever their goals. I enjoy watching my students throughout their high school careers. It is so much fun to see all their adventures and successes. Many of my past students are role models for my own children.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Becky: My parents are firm believers in education. They are not teachers, but they had a vested interest in my education and wanted me to do my best and supported me.
I had great teachers all through elementary and high school from Exeter Public Schools. When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher, Mrs. Lauber, was amazing. I learned so much from her and continue to use her strategies to this day. She taught me the power of professional development and continuing to research best teaching practices to help raise student achievement.
My colleagues have also been great role models. I love that we push each other to be the best we can be to benefit students’ learning and achievement. It truly takes a village.
MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching.
Becky: It’s a blur, like every year. For me, every year feels like my first—and I want it that way so that I continue to change and adjust my teaching practices to meet the students’ learning needs.
Some particular moments I remember:
- The hot summer days at the beginning of the year. The two third-grade classes had adjoining rooms with one window air conditioner. I was so excited to be teaching that I didn’t pay much attention to how hot it was.
- Mrs. Mary Fagler’s patience and calm responses to all my questions. She helped and guided me throughout that first year. She always had a smile on her face and you knew she truly loved her job and her students. She was infectious.
- One of my observations. I thought it went well. I nailed the lesson! Then, during the follow-up, my principal told me what my students were actually doing while the lesson was going on. I was mortified. I cried. But it was a wonderful experience. I soon realized it was not about how well I nailed the lesson, but about the zone of proximity and how engaged the students were (or weren’t).
There are many students I will forever hold in my heart. One was from Africa and would tell us stories about elephants. Another student would stay behind to help me organize books or hang out. To this day I still have students who need that extra attention and stay after school to help build the strong relationship they desire and need.
MFF: Your colleagues consider you a teacher leader, and you have been very involved in leading professional development in your building. How does this impact student outcomes?
Becky: I love learning, reading and going to conferences, and then sharing that information with others. My own learning helps me be the best teacher possible and close achievement gaps. Each year I teach a new bunch of students with different learning needs—and so I need to adjust my teaching practices. Also, the curriculum, standards and future job choices are changing. I need to change my practices to help prepare students for their futures.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Becky: I was still on maternity leave when the assembly was originally scheduled. My principal called about a month earlier to tell me that we had earned an award for PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and ask me to come in. I have been the co-pilot for PBIS for several years and I was thrilled to hear the news. I didn’t think much about it and went on with my motherly duties. When the date came, we had to reschedule due to a snowstorm.
The new date for the assembly was my second week back from maternity leave. I still had “baby brain” and was adjusting to the transitions from mom to teacher, so I didn’t notice that, in fact, no PBIS dignitaries showed up for the assembly. But as the event continued, I realized it was something much bigger. [MFF Senior Program Director] Greg Gallagher kept saying that an outstanding teacher was about to receive the Milken Award, and this teacher was in the crowd. I looked for Mrs. Grueber (found her), then Mrs. Post (found her), and then at all the other colleagues I knew were very deserving of such a prestigious award.
When Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley called my name, I actually wanted to turn around to see if there was another Rebecca Streff in the crowd, or if another one of my colleagues was going down to receive the Award—because surely it could not be me!
I am very appreciative that my district and all the state and local dignitaries kept the secret for so long and organized the assembly several times just for me. My husband was in the crowd that day representing North Bend City Council. He is also a teacher at our high school. My three eldest children go to school at North Bend Central Elementary, so it was amazing to have my family there without the secret being shared.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Becky: Everyone was very excited. We pretty much partied the rest of the day with donuts and candy. Many students congratulated me in the hall. Some primary students went home and told their parents, “Mrs. Streff is a millionaire!” My fifth-grade students did some math and told me I can buy 31 iPhone XRs with the money. I see another project-based learning opportunity coming their way—a research project on making smart financial investments.
I look forward to and I believe the journey and adventure of learning is just starting. I feel it is important for students to see teachers achieve their dreams and earn prestigious awards because we are role models they see daily. They experience the opportunity to see the awesome and awe-inspiring awards teachers can earn doing what they love.
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?
Becky: The Award itself is the true honor; the money is a nice bonus. I have four children so I plan to put some of the money away for their college. I would like to buy myself one nice piece of jewelry to remember the Award and all that it stands for. I also plan to use some of the money to create a scholarship for high school seniors in North Bend Central who are going into education.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Becky: It’s working hard, being proud of your efforts, and continued growth and learning. Success is learning and growing from your mistakes. Success is persistence, perseverance, and being a lifelong learner. It’s knowing that every day is a new adventure and a new opportunity to learn.
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