Sheila Cohen: Star Substitute, Snack Savant, Mom Mom
May 16, 2017
She flutters through the hallways of Clayton High School and brightens them invariably. Sometimes when students first spot her in the classroom, they unleash cheers. The yellow hair, red lipstick and genuine smile of CHS’ favorite substitute teacher comforts a group of otherwise stressed Greyhounds.
When students see Mrs. Cohen’s name written on the whiteboard in loose cursive – unlike with other “subs” – the source of students’ cheers is not a belief they can do anything they want. Students know they can loosen up and relax in her class, but only after they complete their work.
Mrs. Cohen loves her students. But through the years she has seen it all, and she does not mess around.
Beginning her teaching career in the 1970’s, Sheila Cohen taught English in the Ritenour School District. She lived in Olivette and, with her kids as students in the Ladue School District, became Permanent Building Substitute of Ladue High School.
Her gig on S. Warson Rd. lasted 13 years. In 2006 she accepted a job as a substitute teacher at Clayton High School. Clayton, the alma mater of Cohen’s husband, appealed to Cohen because of its academic reputation, but mostly because her grandchildren were in 2nd grade at Glenridge Elementary and Pre-K at the Big Orange Room.
Cohen spent seven years rising to substitute teacher celebrity status at Clayton.
Then, in 2013, her oldest of four grandchildren arrived at CHS: me.
Most days during my freshman year I spent eleven hours at CHS. When I say my grandma saved me multiple times every year I do not embellish.
The goddess of snacks, my grandma strode equipped with the following items for me: homemade lemon poppyseed bread, homemade cranberry scones, homemade chocolate chip cookies, crunchy peanut butter and varying-jellies sandwiches on challah bread, lox and cream cheese bagels — the works.
More meaningful than snacks were our hundreds of hallway hugs.
I easily became bogged down by tedious worksheets and long-winded lessons, but the embraces and “I love you[s]” my grandma and I shared in hallways and classrooms powered me through mundane days.
She revived me.
Sometimes the only necessary ingredient to bolster my purpose and happiness during an otherwise unmemorable school day was a glance or wink from her after someone in class behaved goofily.
Friends and other onlookers of my snack reception/loving exchanges have called me “the luckiest person at CHS.” Due to Mrs. Cohen – “Mom Mom,” as I call her – I believe I am.
My memories of receiving a Clayton education will always be laced with love Mom Mom and I shared.
I cannot imagine navigating four years at CHS without her.