Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover with Stephanie Graham


How did you become a paraprofessional?

  • Used to live in Hannibal, Missouri
  • Husband is a teacher 
  • They had visited Nixa before and loved the area
  • Husband landed a job teaching in Nixa 
  • Stephanie used to be a woman’s dorm director for a college 
  • After moving to Nixa, got a job as a paraprofessional at the high school 
  • Worked with kids with learning disabilities and physical handicaps 

What are some things that you do to help break down the barrier between you and the student you are helping?

  • By building connections and relationships
  • Through being goofy and not being overly stern 
  • A slightly different role than a teacher 
  • She gives her students space unless she sees they aren’t on task 

A paraprofessional has the unique opportunity to experience so many different classrooms. What is that like?

  • Stephanie feels it is very beneficial because she gets to see so many teaching methods 
  • She can become critical of some classroom management styles
  • But, she’s also able to learn how the students do and do not like to be interacted with 

A paraprofessional gets evaluated yearly

  •  She makes suggestions during her yearly evaluations, such as giving paraprofessionals more training 
  • She feels like she struggled during her first year because she didn’t know what she was doing and wished she had more training 
  • Now she tries to help new paraprofessionals if she sees them struggling

How much are you told about the students on your caseload?

  • Stephanie has an idea of what to expect
  • The IEP is helpful 
  • But it would also be useful if she was given a note about their personality 

How does it feel to work in a system that is titled “broken”?

  • Stephanie feels there are more issues with kids’ mental state nowadays 
  • There’s more stress for the teachers 
  • And there are too many tests and a lot of data collection that adds pressure

What has the transition been like from when you first became a paraprofessional to now?

  • Stephanie is happy with her job because she gets to build relationships with the kids
  • She’s also grateful she doesn’t have the pressure of dealing with parents or meetings
  • Plus she gets those school breaks to spend time with her family! 
  • Every day is different and it keeps her on her toes 
  • She doesn’t get paid as much as a teacher, but her job is beneficial and she doesn’t see herself leaving
  • At first, she took the position because she needed a job.
  • Now she’s made it work for her and she enjoys it

Would you share more about what happened with your bachelor’s degree in graphic design?

  • Stephanie was going to add in a degree in art education but was forced to graduate with a graphic design degree due to her number of credits
  • She didn’t go back after she graduated because she didn’t qualify for any financial aid 
  • Then, she tried to find a job in graphic design, but the software she had learned at school was out of date 
  • Eventually, she decided not to pursue a career in graphic design 
  • Finally, she got her job as the dorm director at the college she got her degree from 
  • Which she was grateful for because she was able to be home with her kids
  • While she was frustrated with her degree situation,
  • She feels like she ended up where she needed to be.

Will you tell us more about where you grew up?

  • Stephanie grew up a bit in this area, then moved near Lake of the Ozarks, then to St. Clair
  • Her dad was a pastor and they would move when he would get new positions 
  • She grew up in a strict and very sheltered home
  • When she got to college she experienced a new environment and new people
  • She feels like this helps her understand her students better 
  • Because students’ environments influence their behavior
  • Even if the student is not behaving, she still cares about them and wants them to know that 

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Interested in supporting a child? 

  • 100% of the proceeds donated to the Burntout Educator will provide therapy for a child in the public school system
  • Not therapy capped at a certain number, but an open-ended relationship with a highly qualified therapist in the BHC network.

Interested in hearing more from Think Beyond?

  • Check out our website here!
  • There you’ll find links to our services and other podcasts.

The End of the Infinite Ladder (1)

Level Up. 
  • The purpose of college is to pursue financial security for his family.
  • After a brief stint in international business, Ryan switched to education.
  • While he enjoyed connecting with students, he knew he couldn’t earn enough as a teacher
  • So, he devised a plan to become superintendent.
  • Ryan’s plan detailed how he would move from one level to the next
  • He was offered his first teaching job at the local deaf magnet school
  • He successfully completed his master’s during his 4th  (out of 5 mandatory years) years at Parkview and started applying for administration jobs in that 5th year.
  • 18 months into his assistant principal job he started applying for principal jobs. 
  • When he accepted the principal position, he knew there was major work to be done to ensure he continued to be successful in leveling up.
  • During his principalship, Ryan held and led others in the belief that if a teacher worked hard enough, they could have 100% of their students be proficient on state standards.

Ryan and Objectivity

  • Throughout his career, Ryan had this desire to create connections for students and educators.
  • While wanting others to connect in this vulnerable way, he was unable to meet their vulnerability.
  • Many educators hold themselves in similar capacities of longing for connection but presenting themselves as objects.
  • Additionally, Ryan was so focused on the plan, that opportunities for anything outside of it didn’t make much sense.
  • Finally, there was too much risk in experiencing affect and it going negatively.
  • So he stuck to the plan and used his strategies to be of service in these temporary roles.

Finding Subjectivity 

  • Regardless of how hard he worked, how much time he spent away from his family, how perfect his strategy was, he was unable to reach 100% proficiency in student scores.
  • Racked with shame, he had to let go of the object he’d polished for so long.
  • Ryan was forced to choose between gritting his teeth and bearing it for the next 20 years or creating a new object.
  • So, he spent a lot of time strategizing on what might that other object be and how to provide for his family.
  • He had to divorce himself from the dream he’d been chasing, the plan he’d been working.


“What I’ve learned is there is no strategy to meet that goal. There’s no single strategy that does that. The thing that has the capability of doing that is through connection, one to one, human to human, authentic, subjective connection.”

  • Further, maybe inviting someone into vulnerability and having an impact on them is greater than what any strategy could offer.
  • Maybe seeing the human, caring and showing positive regard, and loving them for who they are and who they aren’t, is more powerful than teaching them the strategy to help them meet the objective they think they need to meet.

Beyond Healing Center

Beyond Healing Media

Interested in supporting a child? 

  • 100% of the proceeds contributed to the Burnt Out Educator will support providing therapy for a child in the public school system. 
  • Not therapy capped at a certain number, but an open-ended relationship with a highly qualified therapist in the BHC network.