What keeps St. Louis teachers returning to the classroom? | St. Louis Public Radio

What keeps St. Louis teachers returning to the classroom?

Aug 18, 2016

Comparatively low pay. Long hours. High — and often changing — expectations. A sometimes reluctant audience. Two months of vacation isn’t a big enough perk to lure anyone into the teaching profession for long. So what inspires St. Louis teachers to return each year?

With most St. Louis area schools now back in session, St. Louis Public Radio asked local teachers what keeps them coming back, what are their biggest challenges and what advice they have for parents.

Here’s what they had to say.

Inspiration

“I'm going to come here and give (my students) my all because I want someone to give my daughter their all in the classroom at the same time,” said LaJuana Stidmon, a biology teacher at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, one of St. Louis Public Schools’ choice high schools.

“I used to tell my kids ‘I don't even like kids. I don't know why I do this.’ And they'll tell you ‘Miss Stidmon doesn't even like kids. But she loves you all because she comes here every day and she tries to teach.’”

Krystal White, who teaches at Mary Institute and  Country Day School, a private school in Ladue, said, “Generally, whenever I say I teach middle school folks shudder. And when I say I teach middle school math they visibly recoil.

Middle school math teacher Krystal White poses with geometry projects in her classroom at MICDS.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“But, really, if you have the opportunity to see the energy and the liveliness that students bring to the classroom. That they are re-imagining themselves in real time and you get to help that progression. It's so inspiring and I get to be a part of that each and every year.”

To Kim Haywood Jr., being a role model is important.

“Especially in the community that I teach in, a lot of young males that I deal with — they have a lot of influences from people within the community that are not always positive. So whether it's just seeing me in a shirt and tie every day, showing up on time … just trying to show them examples on how to be positive in all situations is kind of my goal,” Haywood said. He teaches at Lovejoy Technology Academy, a small, K-12 school, in the Brooklyn public school district.

Challenges

“We do not, as a country, truly value educational equity. And what I mean is that we don't say that every child should get the same opportunities educationally as every other child in our country. We have standards that we expect all students to reach, but we don't give them all the same tools,” said Ben McClusky, who teaches music at Beasley Elementary in the Mehlville School District.

Ben McClusky teaches music at Beasley Elementary School in the Mehlville School District.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Stidmon sees a hope to do something about the inequality: “Kids come to us below grade level on certain things. They come to us with great challenges from their home life. And for 90 minutes a day I get to make them forget that stuff. But reminding them to be good be people all the time is the most challenging thing.”

MICDS' White said the biggest challenge for many teachers in St. Louis is trying to teach kids who aren’t having their basic needs met. But for her, the challenge is children who are distracted and don’t get enough sleep.

“I see kids sleeping less and less and that has an impact on their emotional state and then also their academics,” said White.

Advice for parents

“Don't allow yourself to become comfortable with what people are giving you if you do not feel like it is best for your family, for your child.” — LaJuana Stidmon, Clyde C. Miller Career Academy

“This vision that you had for your child may not be the reality of who your child is. And letting go of that vision involves a grieving process. But you need to recognize that the person who really is in front of you is the person who you need to be loving and caring for every day.” — Krystal White, MICDS

Kim Haywood Jr. teaches middle and high school science at Lovejoy Technology Academy in the Brooklyn school district.
Credit provided

“Check in on your kids more and come up and see what's going on new at the school.” — Kim Haywood Jr., Lovejoy Technology Academy

“Make sure your scholar reads nightly! A love of reading can go so far. Also, be seen reading. Kids pick up on that.” — Mary Davis, EAGLE College Prep, St. Louis charter school

“You shouldn’t do your homework with your kid. I’m speaking that as a math teacher. Every single adult has done seventh or eighth grade math and you don’t want to do it again, so don’t.” — Krystal White, MICDS

“Ask them if they have homework. They'll tell you no. Know that they always have homework for me.” — LaJuana Stidmon, Clyde C. Miller Career Academy

“Stay involved. Keep asking 'What did you learn today?' Ask to see their work. Know when they are testing and follow-up with finding out the results. Take advantage of online grades and assignment boards. Call me, text me, email me, visit me. Don't let up on your child or on me.” — Robert Brown, Gateway Middle School, St. Louis Public Schools

This story was produced with the Public Insight Network. You may see more responses from teachers here.  And click here to learn more or join other conversations we're having at St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.