It takes a special teacher to make math fun but that just happens to be one of the many skills of Hardin Valley Middle School’s Mrs. Jaclyn St John. We’ll even share one of her favorite math jokes now – “I’ll do algebra. I’ll do trig, and I’ll even do statistics, but graphing is where I draw the line!” You’re welcome 😉
Adam: Where were you born?
Jaclyn: Knoxville, Tennessee.
Adam: Which Hospital were you born in?
Jaclyn: Fort Sanders.
Adam: Our third boy was born there, but the other two were born at UT.
Jaclyn: UT is where I had my daughter.
Adam: What middle school did you go to?
Jaclyn: Powell Middle.
Adam: What was your mascot?
Jaclyn: We were the Panthers.
Adam: Which college did you go to?
Jaclyn: Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.
Adam: What did you major in?
Jaclyn: I started out as an Elementary Education major and then later changed to Math Education.
Adam: Why did you transition?
Jaclyn: There was a scholarship opportunity. Tennessee needs math teachers really bad. There was a scholarship program that offered to pay your college if you agreed to teach math for four years. I was receiving checks back every semester because I had too much scholarship money. I thought if I got free college, I’ll teach math for four years! Then, I ended up loving it a lot more than I thought I would. I had originally planned on teaching math for four years and then going back to do elementary school. But, I fell in love with it.
Adam: What draws you to math?
Jaclyn: I was not the strongest math student. I was in honors math because I was good at it, but I wasn’t strong with it and I struggled. I was in tutoring all the time. I figured if I could take math and simplify it for students, then that would help them not hate math. Math is a tough subject. Everybody talks about how much they hate it and nobody wants to go to math class. If I can try to make it something kids can enjoy and simplify it, then I feel like I’m doing my job.
Adam: How many years have you taught now?
Jaclyn: This is my fifth year.
Adam: Which specific subjects are you teaching this semester?
Jaclyn: This semester I have an Honors Algebra 1 and then an 8th grade Pre Algebra.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Jaclyn: I didn’t really ever think to do anything else. To me, it’s always been teaching. Even as a kid I would line my baby dolls up and play teacher with them. I was that nerdy kid. Teaching has always been what I wanted to do. My step sister and her husband are both teachers, my grandmother was a teacher, I didn’t see anything else in my future. That was it. I just knew I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be a mom. I feel like teaching was a great profession to be a teacher and still have a lot of time to be a mom too.
Adam: What subjects or clubs do you sponsor?
Jaclyn: I’m the 8th grade sponsor for our student government.
Adam: What does student government do?
Jaclyn: Being a new school, it’s kind of been a bit of a transition year and figuring that out. Most of the time we plan events for the school. We’ve did a hot cocoa sale one morning for kids. We’ve done different things in the community. They did something for the veterans on Veteran’s Day. For Valentine’s Day they made cards for all the teachers in the school. So just different support type things. We’re hoping over time it can be a little bit bigger. We meet once a month and try to plan something to support the school in some way.
Adam: What are your goals for getting it big enough?
Jaclyn: Moving forward, we’ve talked about having a trunk or treat activity or partnering with the other schools to do something for the community. So right now our focus has been the school and moving forward we’d like to branch out to the community as well.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Jaclyn: Stay home with my kids.
Adam: Any other careers interest you?
Jaclyn: I’d love to work at a church and do the preschool ministries. I guess that kind of still falls under teaching. I just love kids and anything to do with kids, teenagers, little ones.
Adam: What about kids do you love?
Jaclyn: They’re so resilient. You can talk them through a lot of things and help them get to a point where as adults we become so jaded and discouraged. I feel like with kids, it’s much easier to put them in a better mindset and encourage them.
Adam: What age do you think they’re at their best for you to really have an impact on them?
Jaclyn: I taught high school for 4 years before coming here. This is my first middle school and I will say high school lends itself more to that. I taught juniors and seniors, and to me that was that perfect time of molding before they left for the real world. They’re a little bit scared so they’re kind of starting to need adults again and guidance. That was a really good time to reach those kids. I’m having to learn what that looks like in middle school.
Adam: Where did you teach?
Jaclyn: I taught at South Doyle High for two years and most recently at Austin East Magnet High School for two years. So a little bit different. I loved that at Austin East I was able to love on those kids before they went off to college and talk to them through those decisions of what to major in, what scholarships do I need, how do I apply, all of those sorts of things. That was my favorite part of high school. I love middle school, don’t get me wrong. I love working here, but the need is different. The conversations I have with 8th graders are way different than what I had with my seniors.
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Jaclyn: Probably Ms. Sharp at Powell High School. She was my high school geometry teacher.
Adam: Why was she your favorite?
Jaclyn: She just made it fun. She took whatever we were doing and take is a step further to make it interesting. I wasn’t just sitting at my desk doing math problems. I’m also going to say Ms. Denise Watts, she was actually my boss at Austin East. That was kind of a fun transition from my favorite teacher to now my boss. I loved her. She was my geography teacher, but she was one of those teachers who wouldn’t just teach you the content. She taught you how to be a person, how to love others and how to think outside the box. She would support you through anything. If you needed something, her room was open. That’s something I feel like I’ve strived to be for my kids. I teach them math, but I hope more than that, I teach them how to be a good person and how to be good to their peers and to be respectful to adults and things like that. There’s way more to this classroom than Algebra.
Adam: That’s what I keep hearing teachers talk about. It’s important to them. I think it’s why they make the sacrifices they do. Do you think our system lends itself towards that? Does it support teachers teaching more than their subject?
Jaclyn: No. I don’t think that is our system right now. There’s so much on us with what the state expects of us in our content, our standards, and testing. With dealing with all of that, you have to force the time for those relationships that are needed. The best way to get a kid to learn is to form a relationship with them. If they don’t have a relationship with you, they’re not very inclined to listen to you. To build those relationships takes time. So you’re rushing through those relationships so you can get to all your content. Instead of having a mass list of standards a mile long, if we would shorten that a little bit, then I can go in depth and could make it more fun. Instead, I’m struggling just to fit in all the things that they expect us to cover. I don’t know a teacher out there who wouldn’t agree with that.
Adam: I think that’s the struggle of the decision makers. They either don’t have an education background or they’re not tapping into the support and the resources they could to understand that better.
Adam: Which educator have you learned the most from?
Jaclyn: My professor in college, Dr. Anthony, was the math education supervisor for math classes that were geared towards teachers. She was just phenomenal. I would say going into my career, definitely Dr. Anthony. Once I started my career, Melissa Glover. She is enthusiastic in every way possible. She wants to have a positive, good day every day. She is the problem solver that always asks how she can help next. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from Melissa. Be a problem solver. Don’t sit in the problem, but figure out how to make it better, how can I fix it? I learned from her that whole idea of loving your kids first and then show them your content. That’s Melissa. She used to teach social studies, but could walk into any class and fire back at these kids with such enthusiasm. I love that. She’s played a big role in my career.
Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?
Jaclyn: No. Not Professional.
Jaclyn: Well I should say not official. When I was at Austin East, the seniors would always give awards to teachers.
Adam: YES! That totally counts!
Jaclyn: The seniors last year voted me most caring teacher.
Adam: That’s the one that you should keep on your wall forever.
Jaclyn: I have it right here! Right next to their graduation announcements and prom pictures. I really miss that side of things from the high school.
Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jaclyn: I’m going to have to say becoming a mom. Bringing a life into this world and she’s two and she’s still alive! That’s a pretty awesome accomplishment! *laughter* She really is awesome. Being a mom is definitely my biggest accomplishment.
Adam: What do you consider a successful student to be?
Jaclyn: A student with grit. We’ve talked about that word a lot this year. I think it was Ms. Denton that brought it up. It’s having a student that just keeps going when it gets tough, when they’re not making all A’s but they’re going to continue to keep going with it. That to me is a good student. I don’t need an A student. I need a student with effort.
Adam: What is the difference between a good and a great teacher?
Jaclyn: I’m going back to that whole relationship base. A good teacher comes into the classroom, teaches the content and leaves. A great teacher, builds relationships and focuses on the kids. I think a good teacher focuses on content and a great teacher focuses on kids.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Jaclyn: Get rid of state mandated testing.
Adam: Would we go back to what we used to have, like when we were growing up?
Jaclyn: I think that there is power in an assessment. I think knowing what your kids have learned is helpful. I think they need to understand the power of learning and bringing all that knowledge into a cumulative exam. I think that has power. But I also think the amount of pressure that comes from it is too much. We could go back to doing things different, for example, in some classes it’s a county test. It’s just a test that the whole county put together for the kids. Instead we have the state mandated test that’s given to all kids and then our school and teachers are graded on it. It ends up being so much pressure and I feel like it takes some of the joy out of our jobs and it takes the joy out of it for the kids too. They get stressed about these tests the same way we do. They also put these parameters on us, like going to proctor training and doing all these certain things to look a certain way. I just know if we could make it not such a stressful thing, that’d be better for everyone. I do think there’s power in an exam. I just think it can be done differently.
Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom?
Jaclyn: I would love to have the handheld whiteboards. On one side it’s plain and on one side it’s the coordinate grid so the kids can graph. I’ve had them at a previous school and it made things fun. You can make it a race for them to hold their answers up first. Or I can have them hold their answers up so I can see if they’re getting it or not. That’d be something on my wishlist.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Jaclyn: I love to read and we spend a lot of time with our church group. I like to be outside and not necessarily doing anything super strenuous, but just enjoying outside. Right now our hobbies are really centered around our daughter.
Adam: What is a good way for a student or parent to spoil you?
Jaclyn: Diet Coke and Chick-fil-a.
Adam: You’re spot on with that Chick-fil-a!
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