If you had asked Jacqui Stewart as a student at Callanan Middle School what she wanted to be when she grew up, “teacher” would not have been on that list.
Then, she saw it as a tough job that involved nurturing not just the academic, but social sides of students, teaching textbook knowledge along with social skills.
Today, she’s made a complete 180-degree turn. Stewart is currently teaching 7th grade science at Callanan, located in Des Moines.
Stewart says through high school and college, she found herself around kids and teaching, whether it was through a tutoring program or as a camp counselor. She was drawn to the children’s eagerness to learn.
“I wanted to help cultivate that and see them progress,” Stewart says.
But it wasn’t until she was a student at Drake University that she entertained the possibility of going into teaching. She initially was on the path to becoming a physician, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.
Then when she became pregnant, she saw, from a patient’s perspective, doctors’ demanding schedules. With a baby on the way, she decided to reassess her career choice. Stewart went on to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in biology with a pre-med emphasis, and secondary education.
Looking back, becoming a teacher was the right choice for her and her daughter, now 8, she says. Their schedules are in sync, and they’re able to spend the summertime and breaks together. It was also a way for her to combine her love of kids and science.
Getting kids engaged in science is a matter of the personality you bring to the classroom, Stewart says. She tries to think outside the box, with hands-on activities, and at times, some silliness. For example, as part of a recent discussion on fungi, her students were coming up with fungi jokes.
Today, Stewart has come full circle. The most enjoyable part of her job is interacting with the students, she says, which includes teaching them responsibility, respect and how to build strong, positive relationships.
“I’m a people person, I feel, at heart,” she says. “I like to see people prosper and thrive. If there’s something I can do to help them get there, I’ll help them, as long as it doesn’t go against my moral compass.”
What do you like best about Ms. Stewart?
Rose Berber-Solis: “She explains things in her own words, and that makes it really easy to understand.”
Rickia Bradley: “Sometimes if I don’t get something, I might ask her to explain it to me. She helps me understand what to do so I can get the assignment done.”
Darrius Washington: “She can put a fun twist to science instead of it being boring. And she is helpful when I need help with a worksheet or something.”
Theo Auge: “She makes learning really fun and she tells jokes a lot, so the classroom is never boring. She’s really nice to people, and class is different everyday.”