Gail Workman: A Shining Example of CHS Spirit

Mrs. Gail Workman spent 25 years at Clayton High as an English teacher, advisor to the Globe, and an administrator. She is now retired, and lives in St. Louis with her husband. In 2019, she was nominated for the 2020 Distinguished Educator Award by both Nick Otten and Kathy Puhr.

Q: How do you feel about your nomination for the 2020 Distinguished Educator Award?

A: I was thrilled – and very surprised! I’ve always considered this honor as reserved for what I call the “magic” teachers. (I’ve always thought of teachers as “good”, “great” or “magic” – think of the best teacher you’ve ever had, who makes every day special.)  I was so pleased that the committee thought of my combination of administrative work and teaching as a valuable gift to the CHS community!

Q: How did teaching in English I compare to teaching in English II?

A: I think it was mostly a matter of student maturity. Freshmen tend to have shorter attention spans and need to move around more.  I especially loved helping freshmen learn about CHS and its traditions.  We always started the year with a “research” assignment using old yearbooks to see how the school had changed (or not changed) over the years.  I also wanted freshmen to know that they could “reinvent” themselves if they wanted to – maybe finding a new talent, a new interest or just a new attitude. Sophomores were, I admit, my favorite age to teach.  They were a great mix between needing to have fun and starting to hear about the skills they would need for college and AP exams without being caught in the terror of both in junior and senior years!

Q: How did administrative work compare to classroom work at Clayton High?

A: Actually, the best and worst of administrative work were the same.  In my administrative work, I spent most of my time looking at the “big picture”.  I learned a lot about other subject areas, teaching methods, and the “whole school” interaction.  As teachers, it’s easy to focus so much on our own students and their needs that we may lose sight of the needs of other students and teachers. I wish every teacher would have a chance to have some “whole school” experiences!

Q: Do you believe that the CHS Globe today is living up to its potential?

A: I am so impressed with the Globe – when I receive a new copy, I read it before I read Time and then share it with teachers/friends.  When I was the advisor (first of CLAMO in 1976 and then of the newly named Globe), it was a typical high-school paper of the time.  Its four pages were filled mainly with current events at the school – sports, theater, etc. We rarely researched and reported on the world outside Clayton, and spent most of our time toiling over light-tables and trying to make everything fit. But the advent of computerized publication changed the whole world of student journalism  When I suggested to Dr. Earl Hobbes, the superintendent at that time, that I wasn’t the best person to take the Globe into this new era, he understood my concerns.  Thus we began hiring a series of “magic” publication advisors.  Mr. Holmes, Mrs. Freeman, Dr. Pieper, and Ms. Sucher-O’Grady have taken the Globe to a level of excellence I’m so impressed with. I often use it as my primary source for area/national issues I need help  to understand!

Q: How does working at Clayton compare to working at other districts?

A: I’ve only taught at one other school, and the differences were extreme. Primarily, the issues were school size and administrative philosophy. The school had 2400 students in grades 10-12 and was dangerously crowded. Students felt totally anonymous and often lost. Unfortunately, the administrative approach was what I called “a rule for every occasion”. I left and took a short-lived job with a county drug abuse prevention program. Fortunately, I worked with a Clayton alumna, who told me about the English/Journalism opening at CHS and helped me get an interview. From the first semester, I knew this was going to be a totally different teaching experience. The philosophy of treating students as individuals and helping them become everything they could was exactly what I had hoped teaching would be.

Q: Have you had any contact with former students after their graduation?

A: Sure. One of my favorite times was the week before Winter Break, when many college freshmen would come back and wander the halls, visiting all their former teachers. Most of them felt they were very well prepared, and some even felt that college was easier than CHS! It’s also fun that we run into students all over – at performances in town, at the airport, and even in an art gallery in Arizona!

Mrs. Workman’s nomination for this prestigious award is quite deserved, and after 25 years of service to Clayton, her reception of it should be a given. To borrow a phrase from Ms. Kathy Puhr, “If anyone can be said to have bled blue– and orange– it’s Gail Workman.”