With roots deeply imbedded in the profession of teaching, it should be no surprise that a University alumna was recognized as the Missouri Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014. Perhaps the recipient, Jamie (Smith) Manker (’98, ’00) was as surprised as anyone when she learned during an impromptu assembly at her school in August that she was the winner. Whether it was fate, destiny or just random chance, a series of seemingly unrelated events had to fall perfectly into place for Manker, a social studies teacher and department chair at Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton, Mo., to be recognized as the top teacher in the state.
Manker’s family moved all across the country during her adolescence, and her last few years of high school found her living in Riverton, Kan., not far from the Missouri state line. Her high school guidance counselor had her fill out an application for Truman—a school she had never heard of—mainly because it was free and would be good practice. It was not until Manker was accepted that she even decided to visit the campus, where a now unknown tour guide will never realize the role he played in bringing her to Truman.
“I loved whomever gave me my tour,” Manker said. “He should be credited with my tuition. I picked Truman because of him.”
Despite not knowing any of her fellow students when she arrived in Kirksville, and living in a less than appealing pre-renovation Missouri Hall, Manker quickly felt at home on campus. She made a variety of friends and felt comfortable in the classroom. The combination of academics and social life made her transition to college smooth.
“A really cool thing that I hadn’t experienced before was that a lot of kids were really smart, but really fun,” she said. “I hadn’t really thought that you could be both smart and fun before entering college.”
Originally Manker planned to study one of the sciences, but social studies courses in high school and college changed her focus. It was not until her sophomore year at Truman that she realized she wanted to be a teacher.
“It took a long time to figure out what I was good at and what I liked,” Manker said. “School was always an awesome place to be and I wanted to recreate that positive energy for students of my own.”
After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in history in 1998, Manker stayed on at Truman and added a Master of Arts in Education in 2000. For the past 14 years she has been employed as a teacher at Rockwood Summit High School.
While Truman can take credit for helping mold Manker into a more than capable teacher, she credits all the moving around as a child for giving her a means to make personal connections with her students.
“I was able to develop a self-confidence in my ability to meet new people and make new friends and get along with groups and figure out what people care about. All those things I think I do better because I’ve lived in a lot of places,” Manker said. “I remember having moments where I was not focused on the classwork because I was worried about ‘Am I going to make a new friend today?’ ‘Am I going to fit in socially?’ ‘Am I going to have somebody to eat with at lunch?’ That has helped me have more empathy with my students. I understand that they have life happening.”
Even though Manker is beloved by her students, it does not mean her classes are easy. She takes pride in offering a challenging classroom, and feels reaffirmed when students thank her later, often after they have graduated.
“I want them to think my class was tough, but that I gave them a way to succeed,” Manker said. “Kids amaze me every day in what they are able to accomplish. They figure out that they can do more than they thought they could do.”
With technology changing today’s schools, Manker is less concerned with simply ingraining dates and little pieces of trivia into her students’ brains. She strives to create a cultural literacy in her classroom and produce students who are analytical thinkers in today’s information age.
Manker is still in the running to receive the National Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in March. While she still has to wait to see if she wins that award, her Missouri Teacher of the Year designation has already earned her one honor. She was invited to serve as the December commencement speaker, her first trip back to campus in several years.
“I can’t believe I was asked to give the commencement address,” Manker said. “This has all been overwhelming.”
Manker lives in Maryland Heights, Mo., with her husband and fellow Truman alumnus Terry (’97) and their two children, Kyle age seven, and Tyler, age five.