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When you’re following in your mother’s footsteps, it’s easy to trip up—especially when you’re in college and your mom teaches your 8:00 a.m. class.

Brenda Stephenson is a senior lecturer in the deaf education program in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Her daughter, Rachel Simmons, earned her bachelor’s degree in deaf education in May 2011 and completed her master’s degree in the same specialty a year later. Simmons now teaches a preschool class for deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Still Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia.

Rachel and Brenda Stephenson“My mother is a wonderful teacher, just ask anyone, so I always looked forward to her classes,” Simmons said. “However, having my mother teach my college classes was a very strange experience for me. I struggled with what to even call her. I finally settled on ‘B. Stephenson,’ but I’m sure ‘mom’ slipped out once or twice. “

To complicate things, some of her classes with her mom were at the unforgiving hour of 8:00 a.m.

“I once missed her 8:00 a.m. class because I overslept,” Simmons said. “She threatened to give me a disposition that day, but I can proudly say that I was never again late or absent, at least not to her class.”

For both mother and daughter, the desire to teach deaf students was kindled early in life.

“I grew up in Memphis, and we had deaf students in my high school,” Stephenson said. “I would work in their classrooms during my study hall and knew when I came to UT in 1972 that I wanted to major in deaf education.”

She got her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and administration and supervision certificate from UT.

She taught at the Tennessee School for the Deaf for twelve years and served as its principal for another ten. In 1992, though still at the school, she became an adjunct faculty member at UT. In 1999, she became a full-time lecturer at UT and advanced to senior lecturer in 2011.

Simmons grew up seeing how dedicated her mom was to her students.

“I spent quite a lot of time at the school and around those in the Deaf community. To me, it wasn’t strange to be around people who are deaf; it was normal.

“Growing up, seeing how wonderful of a teacher and person my mom is, I knew I wanted to be just like her,” Simmons said. “Even after four years of teaching, my mother is still the first person I turn to with questions or advice. I have my mother to thank for the teacher I am today. I couldn’t do what I do without her guidance. She is my rock, my hero, and my best friend.”

Stephenson said she’s learned plenty from her daughter, too.

“My daughter is an inspiration to me. She is courageous, compassionate, and loving,” she said. “She has shown me that when life becomes difficult you get back up with a smile and keep going… and that if you oversleep and miss your mom’s 8:00 a.m. class, contrary to what your mom thinks, it is not the end of the world.”