James Young sits with guitar in his classroom

James Young, sixth-grade musical theatre teacher at Johnson-Wabash Sixth Grade Center, was named the 2022 Missouri Teacher of the Year. Young, a graduate of the UMSL College of Education, leads an innovative musical theater program, where students learn basic music theory concepts but also how to project self-confidence and be their best selves. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Months ago, James Young was shocked to learn he had been named the Ferguson-Florissant School District’s 2021-2022 Teacher of the year.

Young, a University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Education graduate and sixth-grade musical theater teacher at Johnson-Wabash Sixth Grade Center, was equally surprised, but grateful, this month when the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education named him the 2022 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

“I’m very honored,” Young said of the recognition. “I’m honored to be able to represent UMSL. I’m honored to represent Ferguson-Florissant and the communities surrounding it. I’m honored to represent my family. I really feel a lot of love, support and encouragement from everyone who has been involved.”

UMSL alumni have been well represented amongst Missouri Teacher of the Year winners recently. Young is the third Triton to win the top honor in the past five years.

Darrion Cockrell, a physical education teacher at Crestwood Elementary School, was the most recent winner, while Shelly Parks, an English teacher at Francis Howell North High School, took home the honor for the 2018-2019 school year.

“I’m not surprised that we have had several UMSL alumni named Missouri Teacher of the Year,” said Nancy Singer, associate dean in the College of Education. “Our teacher education program prepares quality educators to reach all children no matter where our graduates teach. James Young is an example of the kind of enthusiastic, versatile educator who is ready to share his knowledge and his passion with all children.”

Young’s teaching career has spanned 14 years – most of which has been in FFSD. At Johnson-Wabash, he has been a guitar teacher and the co-leader of an innovative musical theatre program. The class focuses on musical theater productions, but students also learn breathing exercises, vocal warm-ups and techniques and some basic music theory concepts.

Young was enjoying his lunch break when he found out he had won the district-level award. Superintendent Joseph S. Davis and fellow Johnson-Wabash teachers barged into his classroom with balloons and an Edible Arrangement.

This time, though, there was a bit more deception involved in delivering the good news.

Principal Tangie Francwar came to Young early in the day with a unique request. She asked that he lead a “restorative circle,” an exercise meant to build community among students, during one of his afternoon classes.

Francwar claimed it was because administrators from the school district would be in the building that day, and they wanted to see how the exercise worked.

“It was literally in the middle of that,” he said. “We were in the middle of class, and in comes Darrion Cockrell and my superintendent with balloons and flowers. ‘Wow’ is all I could say. It was amazing to me. I was surprised.”

Young recalled that he was jumping up and down when he won building-level Teacher of the Year at Johnson-Wabash, but he never expected to get this far. As he subsequently won FFSD Teacher of the Year, Regional Teacher of the Year and then became a semifinalist for the statewide award, he set out to enjoy the journey even if he didn’t win.

“At each level, I was surprised, excited, grateful to be considered for the next level,” he said. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s almost disbelief. ‘Wow, I really made the next level. Well, I’ll do my best, and we’ll see what happens.’ That’s what it’s been like until now.”

Now that he has won, Young is eager to be a representative for all the hard-working educators throughout the state.

“I’m excited and look forward to serving this next year,” he said.


Read more about James Young: blogs.umsl.edu/news/2021/07/30/james-young-teacher-year/

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe