Sarah Kempker expected to become a registered nurse after she reared her family.
But working with youth came naturally and recurrently until she realized she should become a teacher.
Kempker, who teaches English, recently was honored as one of more than 30 Missouri Regional Teachers of the Year, after being named the Russellville Teacher of the Year in May.
The regional award is part of the Missouri Teacher of the Year program, sponsored by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to recognize the efforts of effective teachers in providing a quality education to their students.
Kempker is completing her application for Missouri Teacher of the Year, supported by the Boeing Company and the Monsanto Fund.
If selected, Kempker said she would emphasize that college and career readiness initiatives are starting too late in a student's career.
Last year, the Russellville school district gave her the opportunity to introduce ACT English and reading preparation into her freshmen and sophomore classrooms.
"It's intertwined with everything," she said.
From the first test at the beginning of the school year, to the fifth and last, she said scores were up.
The practice tests throughout the year helped the students see what areas they need to work on, as well as given Kempker guidance on lessons that needed to be repeated for the entire class.
Kempker grew up in Henley, then relocated with her husband, Matthew, as he was assigned with the U.S. Marine Corps, including Japan and North Carolina.
They returned to Mid-Missouri, where they reared their now-adult children — Abigail McDougle, Bonnie Kempker and Lance Corporal Lewis Kempker, who is currently deployed with the Marines.
Kempker earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Lincoln University, along with a minor in biology.
"I thought I was going to be a science teacher," she said.
Instead, she taught English and literature to fifth through eighth grades 11 years at an area parochial school.
"I just thought I liked to read," she said.
Regardless of the class subject, Kempker said she makes the students the priority.
"As a teacher, the message is: It's the small things that really matter," like listening and coming in early, she said. "I worry about everything. So, I do what I would want someone to do for me."
She holds high expectations for her students, but it comes with equal support, she said. And she doesn't expect "perfection," only improvement based on each student's ability.
The teacher of the year process has caused her to raise her standards as a teacher, Kempker said.
"I see what I've written down in my (application) essays; now I have to live up to it."