Teaching is in Steven Hicks’ blood. Almost everyone in his immediate family – including his mother, father, and all of his seven younger sisters – has either taught or teaches today. And Hicks is no exception.
“I didn’t decide I wanted to be a teacher until I actually went and substitute taught,” says Hicks of his decision to pursue a career in early childhood education. According to Hicks, he realized he has a gift for teaching during the 6th grade when a teacher let him lead the entire class in a theater activity. That moment of trust in his ability to convey learning to his peers was “one of those pivotal moments where I thought I was probably going to be a teacher,” he explains.
Hicks grew up in Fresno, California as the oldest child of a large family. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz and working a few other jobs, Hicks took a substitute teaching position with a third grade class in South Central Los Angeles. The principal of the school was so thrilled to see Hicks return for a second day – something the other substitutes had failed to do – that she rushed to the district office to help expedite Hick’s credentials so he could remain in the classroom.
Hicks went on to earn a Masters degree in Early Childhood from California State University in LA. In 1999, he completed the arduous process to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The effort was well worth it. “The most rewarding part of teaching is being able to see that moment when a child discovers that she learned something new and that satisfaction and confidence that you see on her face and in her eyes,” explains Hicks.
In 2008, and with 20 years of classroom experience, Hicks joined the Department of Education as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow during the program’s inaugural year, which spanned over two Administrations: Bush and Obama. He worked first in the Charter School Office and later, when the Obama Administration came in, under Barbara Bowman, Secretary Duncan’s Consultant on Early Learning. At the end of his fellowship, Hicks joined ED’s full-time staff as a Special Assistant and now works in the Office of Early Learning under Deputy Assistant Secretary Jacqueline Jones.
“Every day I work to promote early learning – and that’s birth to third grade – as a priority in the department,” Hicks explains as what he does for ED on a daily basis. As for his lengthy teaching experience, he says it gives him a strong foundation for the work he’s doing. “I use my experience as a teacher and as a member of an educational community to put in the right evidence, to suggest the right elements, to know how what we were doing at the federal level was going to affect students and the families and the teachers that are affected by the policies that we make here,” he says.
And although Hicks’ day job can be time-consuming, he isn’t done with the classroom just yet. Once a week during lunchtime, Hicks visits DC’s Amidon Elementary through the Everybody Wins program, where he mentors Tremar, a fourth grade student he’s been reading to for two years. “It’s nice to be able to get into the school once a week and work directly with the students we’re trying to help here at ED,” says Hicks.
Hicks has come a long way since he took that first teaching job back in 1988 in South Central LA, and although he’s had to learn from his mistakes over the years, he still believes teaching has been one of the most fulfilling and joyful aspects of his life. “It’s so cliché to say ‘Oh, it’s so rewarding,’ but it really is,” says Hicks. “I think there are few jobs where you get to see that and affect so many lives directly.”
Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach