If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Karen Pace should be feeling pretty good. Two of her fellow math teachers at Salem High School were her students when they were in school. Karen’s philosophy in the classroom no doubt affected their choice to teach math.
“You have to make math interesting so that kids can see how it applies to their life,” Karen said. “You can help them see that math is fun and exciting.”
Karen made the choice to teach math because, one, she’s good at it, and two, she was intrigued by problem solving and the sensible path to finding the solution. Karen said her choice was also influenced by her mother, who taught kindergarten.
“When I was little, I would help my mom get her classroom ready for the school year,” Karen said. “I remember the bright colors of the kindergarten room. When I was older, I would help her grade papers.”
Her mother also brought the classroom home.
“We had a house full of animals – guinea pigs and so forth – and I asked my mom why we had so many animals,” Karen said. “She said that the animals helped her students understand the world around them.”
Karen grew up in Kirkwood, and then earned her Bachelor of Science in education from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau and a master’s degree in education from Drury University. She has taught in Salem for 37 years, and in 2016 was named South Central Regional Teacher of the Year.
During her years in Salem, Karen has seen a lot of change. Like many veteran teachers, she says the biggest change has been in the use of technology.
“There is so much information available for students,” she said. “They can Google anything, so they need help to analyze and use all the information they find.”
On the other hand, Karen said, technology has made it easier for kids to learn.
“Technology has made math more attainable for kids,” she said. “I can put a 3-D image on my interactive white board and manipulate it in different ways. That capability has made a big difference in the students’ visualization.”
Karen said her students also get a boost from having Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) so close – just 30 miles away in Rolla.
She said, “Some of my former students are enrolled in classes at S&T. They email their college math problems for me to use with my current students. My students really enjoy working on college-level math and seeing how it’s done.”
Karen’s former students aren’t the only ones supporting the kids currently enrolled at Salem High. The community is aware of what the kids are doing and wants to help.
“I assigned a graphing activity for my kids using graphs they got from newspapers and magazines,” Karen said. “One of my students works as a waitress, and she asked a customer if she could have his newspaper for the graph. He asked more about it and told her that if she needed anything else for the class, just to let him know.”
That type of community support was reflected in September, when many parents and community members from Salem and the surrounding area attended a regional meeting sponsored by DESE.
“When Commissioner Vandeven came, there was a large crowd with a lot of input,” Karen said.
As in all classrooms, there are challenges in Salem. Karen believes the key to overcoming challenges is to communicate with her students.
“They may come to class unprepared, without breakfast or a good night’s sleep,” she said. “I will talk with them and form a relationship with them. When they want to be in school, they will do anything you ask of them.”
“You have to believe in your students.”