Laura Stedman*

Abundant Rewards

By Laura Stedman

One day in science class, we were reviewing the topic of the animal cell. The students had memorized what they needed to know to pass the national standardized exam, and for that I was pleased. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing. Where was the spark? They dismissed and shied away from my requests for their opinions. The students refused to offer their own possible explanations for experiments and observations. Instead, they wanted to know what the ‘right’ answer was. They didn’t seem to consider that there were mysteries and secrets of nature, that there was more to know than what the examine cared to test. I asked myself: “Do they recognize the magnificence that takes place here in the cell? Why don’t they share their thoughts? Do they understand the topic? Do they care?” I was frustrated because I felt that I was unable to really reach them.

I was having doubts about teaching until I found a diagram in the back of one my students’ notebooks. This diagram changed my perspective on teaching. In her notebook, the student had drawn the unlikely comparison of an animal cell to a Swazi homestead. She had given the grandmother of the homestead the role of the nucleus. The mitochondria, the organelle which supplies energy to the cell, was represented by the sisters.

I called her into the staff room and asked her to explain what she had written. At first she thought she was in trouble. Then she started to open up. She explained that she had given the grandmother the role of the nucleus because “grandmother decodes when and how things get done.”

As she continued I began to see that she had indeed understood the intimate workings of the cell. I was proud of her, and I told her. “But Miss,” she said, “I don’t know why you’re happy. I only did this from my own mind to help me understand this better.”

“I know,” I said. “That is why I am proud of you.”

I began to understand that young men and women need confidence in themselves and their own worth, as well as direction for their critical thought. With this in mind, I changed my teaching methods to encourage not just academic achievement but also emotional growth. Something magical started to happen in that class. Students started to see themselves as having worthwhile opinions and were not afraid of sharing them. I saw students taking risks in their ideas and growing from them. I felt truly honored and privileged to be part of it.

My love of teaching is genuine. Teaching provides a unique opportunity to learn something new from young people while guiding them toward their goals. The work is challenging and the rewards abundant.

Laura Stedman (Swaziland 1993-1995) Laura taught high school science in Swaziland. She has a B.S. in Biological Sciences and is from Portland, Maine.


Portland Press Herald: January 18,1996
Laura Ann Stedman, 25, a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, died unexpectedly of natural causes Friday while hiking.
From November 1993 until last month, Miss Stedman was a teacher in the Peace Corps. She taught science and math in a tiny village in Swaziland, a small country surrounded by South Africa. ”She didn’t know how primitive it would be,” said her sister, Kathleen Stedman. ”The village had no running water or electricity, and she lived in a mud hut with a thatched roof.”
Miss Stedman’s high school students ranged in age from 13 to 20. At first she lived on the school grounds, her sister said. ”She got lonely, with no one to talk to after the kids went home. She eventually came to live with one of her student’s families. They treated her so well,” said her sister. ”They were always trying to feed her, because they thought she was too thin. Her family was actually considered well off because they had a pit latrine.”
Villagers assigned her the name of ”Lindiwe,” which in their language of siSwati, means ”The one we’ve been waiting for.”
For bathing, Miss Stedman had to draw water and then let it settle for 48 hours, said Christina Walpole, a longtime friend and college roommate. ”Though it was primitive, she loved it,” said her sister. ”It was an adventure. She took it all in stride.”
Miss Stedman’s mother, Esther Stedman, used to mail stickers to her daughter, which she would affix to student papers recognizing work well done. ”She didn’t realize until later that, by giving stickers to the top students, it was starting fights on the playground,” said Walpole.
Miss Stedman completed her Peace Corps assignment Dec. 15 and was scheduled to return to Portland on March 1. In the meantime, she had been traveling to Cape Town and other parts of southern Africa.
Born in Portland, a daughter of Dr. John M. and Esther McGuinness Stedman, she attended St. Patrick’s Grammar School and graduated in 1988 from Catherine McAuley High School. At McAuley, she was in the Latin Club, Key Club, Student Council and National Honor Society. She was a waitress at DiMillo’s Restaurant in Portland and at Friendly’s Restaurant in South Portland.
Miss Stedman graduated in 1992 from St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vt., where she majored in biology and minored in Latin. There, she was a Latin tutor and an emergency medical technician with the St. Michael’s Fire and Rescue Department. After college she worked 18 months at Maine Medical Center while awaiting her Peace Corps assignment. She enjoyed hiking, animals and planting flowers. She was a communicant of St. Patrick’s Church.
Surviving are her parents of Portland; a brother, Sean of Redondo Beach, Calif.; two sisters, Kathleen and Deirdre Stedman, both of Portland.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Patrick’s Church. Burial will be in New Calvary Cemetery, South Portland. Arrangements are by Conroy-Tully South Portland Chapel, 1024 Broadway.


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8 Responses to Laura Stedman*

  1. Tom campobasso July 8, 2022 at 6:11 am #

    So sad Laura was a great person

  2. Suzanne Pingert Gruendling January 12, 2021 at 9:12 pm #

    Thinking of Laura on this 24th anniversary. I still have her letters from her time in the Peace Corps. Miss you Laura.

  3. Sean Stedman February 15, 2017 at 6:35 pm #

    I am Laura’s brother Sean. Not a day goes by that our parents and sisters not think of Laura. We miss her.

    • Nelly Innocentia Simelane September 27, 2020 at 12:34 pm #

      Miss her so much,I’m the student who lived with her in Swaziland

  4. Andrew Thurber September 16, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    Laura attended training as my service in Swaziland was nearing an end, and we were all touched by her passion and the community that she quickly created. She became a friend to us all.
    I’m fortunate to live in Vermont and often drive by St. Michael’s Fire & Rescue. I’m always touched by the respect shown to her by the tree they planted and the plaque in her honor.

  5. Robert Blau RPCV September 13, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    Laura was in my group, she is missed to this day. She used to sing perfectly the morning assembly songs the students sang.

  6. Amy LaRow August 20, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    Laura was a beloved friend of mine and a member of St. Michael’s Fire and Rescue who is truly missed. I will always remember her smile and enthusiasm towards life.

  7. Patrick Lynch August 20, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Laura was a beloved member of St. Michael’s Fire & Rescue where she served as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician while in college.

    Laura’s volunteer service to the department, and to the Peace Corps, lives on in the actions of our current membership and is memorialized by a plaque which has hung in the station since 1995 and soon on a piece of granite which will be laid in a new memorial area built at the station.

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