Nine education majors at Southeast Missouri State University-Sikeston will pause this weekend to celebrate an educational milestone – the completion of their college degree — before moving on to school districts throughout southeast Missouri where they’ve already been tapped to positively shape the minds and lives of the next generation.
The future educators, who will begin their new duties next fall, are poised to carry on Southeast’s long-held tradition of teacher preparation. Among them are Nikki Perkins of Charleston, Missouri, who will receive a Bachelor of Science in Education, elementary education; and Grace Riley of New Madrid, Missouri; Callie Fansler of Sikeston, Missouri; Anna Kern of Benton, Missouri; Libby Sutton of East Prairie, Missouri; and Courtney Potts of Dexter, Missouri, all of whom will receive a Bachelor of Science in Education, early childhood education.
“Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference in the lives of others,” Perkins said. “Education was the first thing that I thought of as I got older, and it is the perfect fit for me. As a teacher, I can give children the knowledge and resources to carry with them their whole lives and be productive members of society too. I want to help build strong, smart children.”
Dr. Candee Baker, instructor of elementary, early and special education, says she takes pride in knowing all nine soon-to-be Sikeston campus graduates already have secured jobs.
“Southeast and our regional campus at Sikeston provides a high-quality teacher education program that prepares graduates for success in schools across Missouri and beyond,” she said. “The school districts are impressed with their knowledge and instructional skills. This is partly a result of our intensive field-based program where students have the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom. Their passion and drive to become inspiring educators fuel their persistence, and their strength and determination amazes me. Commencement is the culmination of all of their hard work, and the Southeast community and I are so proud of each of them, and I am honored to have been a part of their journey.”
Perkins has accepted a full-time position teaching pre-kindergarten at New Madrid Elementary. Joining her will be Riley, who will be teaching fourth grade at New Madrid Elementary.
For Riley, launching her career at New Madrid is like a homecoming – it’s where she was raised and went to school.
“This is my home district, and the school I was lucky enough to student teach in, so it feels like a dream come true to be hired here,” Riley said. “I have always loved school and enjoyed going to school. That love of learning eventually turned into a love of teaching. It started when I would help my friends with homework, and I knew I wanted to help students with their work for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to have my own classroom of future world changers. Although I’ve gotten to know and love several children throughout my field experiences in the education blocks, it isn’t quite the same as having your own room of children. I also look forward to collaborating with my co-workers to create a super fun learning environment. I want kids to enjoy coming to school.”
Several others are headed to positions with their hometown school districts, including Fansler, who has been hired to teach fifth grade math at the Sikeston Fifth and Sixth Grade Center; Sutton, who will be starting her career as a kindergarten teacher at R.A. Doyle Elementary in East Prairie, Missouri; and Potts, who will be teaching first graders at Southeast Elementary in Dexter, Missouri.
Fansler hopes to turn her classroom into a sanctuary of creativity and inspiration.
“I am very excited to set up my classroom to provide the best learning environment for my students,” she said. “I want to include positive quotes and engaging spaces to motivate my students. I am also thrilled to get to know my very first classroom of students.”
Sutton is also looking forward to being a positive force in her new classroom.
“I am looking forward to having my own classroom, decorating it, and being a person that will hopefully make a difference in their lives,” Sutton said. “I knew from a young age I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to work with children, help them learn, give them someone who cares about them. I couldn’t think of a better career than teaching.”
For Potts, being a teacher is an opportunity to make a difference in her hometown community as well.
“What excites me most about working in education would be the impact I can have in the lives of the students and families in my room and school,” she said. “I get to build positive relationships with students and families in my community. Working together to achieve one goal is exciting.”
The students are most looking forward to applying the skills and knowledge they gained while at Southeast, particularly the skills they’ve acquired via Southeast’s EDvolution initiative. Based in Southeast’s College of Education, Health and Human Studies, the EDvolution focuses on using and integrating technology in the classroom, modeling 21st-century teaching techniques, getting hands-on student-teaching experiences and developing close faculty-student relationships — to equip future teachers with the skills necessary for success throughout southeast Missouri.
As a third-grade teacher at Southeast Elementary in Sikeston, Kern will use a variety of instructional strategies, technology and curriculum to provide the best learning environment for her new students.
“I’ve had a lot of field experience through Southeast’s education program,” Kern said. “Because of that, I am used to teaching and being in the classroom. I also received a lot of hands-on training and professional development that really helped me land my first job and will help me throughout my career.”
The real-world, student-teaching experiences Southeast provides not only prepare students to be better teachers, but also positively impact the children they teach in districts across the region.
“The field experiences we are required to complete do an excellent job of molding us into future educators by visiting different classrooms and learning from working teachers,” said Riley, who particularly enjoyed participating in Southeast’s Read to Succeed Plus (R2S+) Reading Academy, which recently expanded its outreach to the Sikeston, Kennett and Poplar Bluff communities, and provides struggling readers in grades 1-5 an environment to take risks and build confidence as they develop literary skills to become proficient readers.
“We tutored kids one afternoon per week for a semester,” she said. “This was such a great experience, and I enjoyed the bond I made with my student. I think the Read to Succeed program was a great way to give teacher candidates a better glimpse into schools and real-world experiences.”
For each of the students, attending Southeast’s Sikeston Regional Campus was a great opportunity to pursue their higher education goals while remaining close to their homes on a campus dedicated to comprehensive academics as they prepare to launch their careers.
“The smaller campus and class sizes made the experience more personal, and I truly felt like everyone cared about my education,” Sutton said.