School is in session with teacher and advice columnist Kem Smith
Educators today face a myriad of challenges, both in and out of the classroom, that have affected teacher recruitment and retention. As of August 2022, the National Education Association estimated that schools across the U.S. were lacking approximately 300,000 teachers and staff.
Kem Smith is a 12th grade language arts teacher at McCluer North High School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. She has experienced the impact of the teacher deficit firsthand, and in 2011, she made a decision to take a break from teaching full time as well.
“I was teaching middle school and was very overwhelmed at having a new baby — and being a teacher and all the things that went into that,” Smith said on St. Louis on the Air. After being away from education for five years, Smith decided to return to teaching high schoolers. “I have since returned to the classroom, because when I was gone, I owned a business. And I was able to see what the gaps are, what employers are looking for, and where we're kind of falling short preparing our students. … I wanted to ensure that we are graduating students who are ready and prepared for the work world.”
In July 2022, Smith, who has a doctorate in education, started writing After the Bell, an advice column for teachers on Chalkbeat. Using her 23 years in education, and experience with changing curriculums and classroom culture, Smith answers weekly questions submitted by teachers across the nation — about issues including how to accurately and appropriately teach U.S. history and how the pandemic has affected the ways students learn and teachers teach.
Smith’s column also speaks to new and veteran teachers. She said she is able to share her wisdom because of the wisdom that was shared with her as a young teacher.
“I remember just staying late at night and being able to put on all these performances and guest speakers. Teachers who have been around [for a long time], they molded me in ways that I cannot explain,” Smith said. “There is so much knowledge and information that a senior teacher can share with someone … because the new teachers need to know: ‘How do you maintain? How do you keep from burning out?’”
To hear more about Kem Smith’s thoughts on teacher compensation, the many roles educators are expected to play in and out of the classroom and reacclimating students and teachers to the classroom post-COVID restrictions, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.