Teaching is not just a career or a creative outlet for Megan Yost. It’s a calling she couldn’t deny — though she tried.
“I just feel like I was fit to do this job,” said Yost, whose high-profile efforts engaging middle-schoolers in science, technology, engineering and math make her an obvious choice to be featured in Tulsa World’s biweekly 2017 series Schoolhouse Rock Stars, intended to honor a small number of the people on the front lines of the fight to prepare Tulsa-area kids for a brighter future.
“I care about what the kids want to do, and I take their interests and I make those lessons engaging. Some teachers just do the same lessons every year, but you don’t have the same kids every year.”
Yost, 25, traces her desire to become an educator back to when she was in elementary school, giving lessons to her stuffed animals using her grandmother’s teacher-edition textbooks.
But going into college, she was almost dissuaded by people suggesting she pursue a higher-paying career.
“ ‘You could be so much more than a teacher’ — that’s what people used to tell me,” she remembers.
So she enrolled at Oklahoma State University intending to become an orthodontist, a job that would involve two of her passions: science and working with children. But she wasn’t feeling inspired by her classes and couldn’t shake the aspiration to become a teacher.
“I just remember thinking ‘I know I want to be a teacher. I know I want to be a teacher,’ ” she said. “So I went and shadowed in a low-income middle school, and I left the building that day with extreme butterflies in my stomach.”
She decided to change her major to education during her sophomore year of college, and since then the experience has only confirmed that teaching is her “calling.”
‘I just love this job’
Yost began teaching at Thoreau Demonstration Academy in December 2014 after student-teaching seventh-grade science at Edison Preparatory Middle School.
“My plan was to never stay in Oklahoma, but I realized it was harder to get a Texas certification right out of college,” said Yost, who grew up in Texas and had planned to return to teach in the McKinney school district. “I actually ended up getting my Texas certificate, but I just love this job so much.”
She teaches Gateway to Technology, an elective class for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Thoreau. Yost’s students are expected to treat her like their boss and each other like coworkers.
“This is a career preparation class, to show them all the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs that are out there, so I want to treat it like a career preparation course, where I’m the boss, and they’re the employees,” Yost said.
The course is offered through a partnership with Oklahoma Career Tech, and Yost got the idea to model the class like a company partly from employers when she toured local companies through a training program called “Road Trip for Teachers.”
“They told us that kids don’t know how to work in groups, kids don’t know how to think for themselves, and kids don’t know how to communicate,” Yost said. “They always ask their superior: ‘What should I do here? What should I do here?’ Or they’ll send an email when really they should just go chat.”
So Yost decided to address those issues when her students work on group projects.
“When a kid comes up to me and says, ‘I don’t feel like I can be in a group with that person,’ then I say, ‘OK, I guess you’re fired from the project.’ Because that’s what a boss would do,” she said.
When one of Yost’s students thanks her for class as he leaves every day, Yost said, “it makes me realize why I’m a teacher.”
“That just warms my heart, and it’s like ‘OK, this is why I’m giving 110 percent,’ ” she said. “One kid appreciates it, and that’s good for me.”
Beloved teacher, popular class
The class’s popularity is evident in the number of students who want to take it, said Principal Audrey Doctor, explaining that the school has to turn away students each semester because there isn’t enough space for all the kids who sign up for it.
“The grapevine takes care of itself when it comes to teachers,” Doctor said, adding that Yost’s students’ exciting projects displayed in the hallway serve as an advertisement for the class.
One challenge for Yost this year has been larger class sizes because of funding cuts. Yost said her classes have grown to include as many as 38 students; she had between 15 and 25 students in each of her classes last year.
“Class numbers are crucial to being a good teacher because you can only help as many kids as you have time for,” Yost said. “So if you can’t help those kids, they’re just going to fall through the cracks.”
To handle the larger classes, Yost said she strategizes ways to be more resourceful with materials and redesigns group projects to include more students.
“This semester is going so much more smoothly because I am adjusted to it, but I can’t even imagine how grand it would be if I had 20 kids to a class,” she said.
Doctor said Yost’s energetic personality pushes students to question their own ideas so they can reach their full potential.
“Not all teachers would prod and take you to that next level,” Doctor said. “Most teachers would be satisfied in the fact that the child is engaged, doing what it is I want them to do, and they have a product to produce, OK they’re ready to move on.”
When asked what’s kept her in Tulsa, she said a large draw has been the opportunity to teach a class that gives her the freedom to exercise her creativity and make it exciting for students.
“It’s so flexible. I get to do what I want, and it’s not a core subject, so I feel like the kids are more receptive and more engaging,” Yost said.
That, coupled with not wanting to leave her school principal and friends she’s made, made her think, “Why would I leave? You know, just to make more money?”
She remembers her dad, when she was debating whether to leave Oklahoma, reminding her that “money isn’t the best kind of happiness.”
“‘You have to work every single day, and so if you’re happy about that, then you should stay,’” she recalled him telling her. “And so I decided I would just make a budget, and I would stay.”
Yost said she derives her motivation from the “priceless impact” she’s making on her students, and she hasn’t regretted the decision yet.
“I never dread going to work. I just love it,” she said.