After a lifelong plan of becoming a theater professor, Kim Zustiak could not be happier with her decision to teach high school instead.
“I am one of the rare people who really enjoyed their high school experience,” said Zustiak. “I just loved all of those experiences and opportunities and I think that’s what made me come back and want to teach those very things.” Zustiak comes to Clayton after teaching at Seckman High School, part of the Fox C-6 School District, for 20 years. She is a dedicated teacher in both speech and debate, and theater. “I was in charge of the shows, which is a big change for me,” said Zustiak. “But I was excessively busy there. I went from having five different classes that I taught to having basically three: video production, video production leadership and forensics.”
While eager to start this year’s speech and debate season, Zustiak is cautious about navigating the ways and traditions of the team.
“Not to change the speech and debate team too much, but to put my own stamp on it,” said Zustiak.
Many members of the team aren’t yet accustomed to having in-person tournaments, as Clayton just returned to doing non-virtual tournaments last spring. Zustiak hopes to make this transition easier.
“My area where I came from, we were back doing everything in-person last year. So l am looking forward to leading a group of kids through that process, getting used to in-person [and] bringing back events.”
With her background in theater, Zustiak hopes to add more theater elements to the team.
“I am toying with the idea of also doing a one-act play in addition to reader’s theater as part of the MHSAA district and hopefully state,” said Zustiak.
However, her roles in the classroom aren’t the only big transitions that she’s faced by switching to Clayton. Zustiak’s commute time now typically takes 40-45 minutes. However, in the midst of rush hour traffic, it can take an hour and a half.
Originally from Kelso, Missouri, a small farm town in Southeast Missouri, Zustiak now lives in Festus. After initially moving for a teaching position her husband received at the Festus school district 21 years ago, the couple have called it home ever since.
Zustiak always knew she would go into education, but a big motivating factor was the day’s schedule.
“I vividly remember in high school and college [that] my personality needs a job where I have a routine,” said Zustiak. “That has always been comforting to me.” Especially with Clayton’s flexible schedule, Zustiak has been able to take advantage of planning periods while also collaborating with staff and students during the school day.
From her ambitious attitude and her decades of experience teaching, it is clear that Zustiak cultivates a supportive and engaging classroom.
“It has been really hard knowing the kids that I left behind in my previous building,” said Zustiak. “So I am hopeful that I’ll be able to establish those relationships with [these] kids. That’s a big initiative in education.”