MOKANE, Mo. -- Shelly Sconce's second year of teaching at South Callaway High School is when she experienced a defining moment in her teaching career. She reached a low point in her personal life when a student approached her and gave her a hug during calculus class.
"I remember (the student) coming up and putting arms around me and saying, "I just want to let you know I love you,'" Sconce said.
Sconce said in her first years of teaching she was not as "warm and fuzzy" as she is now, so for the student to say, "I love you," was a moment that helped Sconce bridge a gap between the emotional and academic sides to being a teacher. It also gave her a sense of purpose.
"Then you realize you are in the exact place God wants you to be because you have just touched the lives of so many of these kids without even knowing it," Sconce said. "Maybe it was just because you brought cookies or because you said, "Hello' in the parking lot or asked if they're having a nice day because their day maybe has been crap before that and that's all they needed. That was probably my defining moment where I felt like this is where I'm supposed to be and so no matter how bad it gets or feels like it's getting, it's going to be worth it."
Sconce has taught at SCHS for eight years, teaching algebra, geometry and calculus, and was recently nominated for a national teaching award - LifeChanger of the Year. The award is sponsored by the National Life Group, a financial services company.
Alex Dzurick, a 2008 graduate of South Callaway High School, nominated Sconce for the award after she helped his family cope with the loss of Dzurick's mother - Lola Dzurick, who passed away in June from breast cancer. Lola Dzurick was an employee at SCHS for 37 years - 27 as a world history teacher and 10 as the director of curriculum, among other after school responsibilities.
In October, Sconce organized SCHS's Pink Out football game. The game raised awareness about breast cancer, but donations raised went to the initiative for a new Fulton Animal Shelter, a topic that was close to Lola Dzurick's heart. Alex Dzurick said he was honored that Sconce helped remember his mother in a way that was special and specific to her.
"Shelly is just one of those people that is a helper," Alex Dzurick said. "If you're in need and you have a problem, she's not going to judge."
Although Sconce never taught Alex Dzurick, his younger brother, Chris Dzurick was one of Sconce's students. Alex Dzurick also worked with Sconce a bit last year when he was a science teacher at South Callaway Middle School when he subbed for her. Based on the lesson plans she left and the level of her students, Dzurick said he could tell Sconce was an effective teacher who gave her students the ability to learn.
Coming to South Callaway
Sconce was in her second year at the University of Missouri as an elementary education major when she left to start a family with her husband, Wes Sconce. They starting raising their three children -Mackenzie, Caleb and Braeden. When Braeden was in kindergarten, Sconce decided to attend Columbia College. This time, though, she decided to study secondary education.
"I realized I didn't want to wipe noses," she said.
At a University of Missouri education fair, Sconce sat down at the South Callaway booth and set up an interview, thinking it was Southern Boone, an area closer to her Columbia home. She soon discovered South Callaway was out of the 30-mile radius she wanted to travel for work, but interviewed anyway.
"I felt like there was a reason I sat down at that table and got that interview," Sconce said.
She was offered her first teaching job at SCHS and accepted at 32 years old.
Sconce said she understands there is a "spectrum" when it comes to students' relationships with math. Some like it. Others tolerate it. Many hate it. But no matter where a student falls on the spectrum, Sconce said her goal is to have fun and allow the students to engage in their learning.
Sconce said she likes to remind her students that she was once a struggling math student to help them relate better to her.
"I finished algebra II with a C- and I did it my junior year and I didn't take any more math after that," Sconce said. "That baffles them."
While she has fun and plays math games in class, she is known as a challenging teacher.
"I think when people see (my name) on their schedule or know it's coming, there's a little trepidation of what it's going to be like," Sconce said.
Sconce said she has good reason for setting a high bar for her students. One of the biggest projects in her geometry class is a geometry notebook. The notebook's requirements include geometry terms with examples of how those terms apply to day to day life.
"I feel like if we just accept mediocre, then that's exactly what (students) are going to strive for and nothing better. And some of them aren't even going to hit the mediocre bar," Sconce said. "So for that reason, I set the bar really high and try to demand success. I'm not going to get all kids to love math, but I think I get most kids leaving my classroom seeing how it's going to be applicable to their lives and then better after my classroom when they get to life after high school, whether that's college or technical school or even the workplace."
After the bell rings, Sconce said she can find herself as a counselor or friend to students, giving them advice on topics that range from a new baby to the loss of a relative.
"I think it's those little things. You have to decide if you're going to reach out and open up or you're going to be the polar opposite of that," Sconce said. "And, there's going to be some gray area with that but with students, I think they just need to know that you care."
The award winner will be announced in April.