'I'm a nut': Unconventional East St. Louis teacher to receive Emerson award

News-DemocratNovember 9, 2013 

Martha Warren got into teaching to help teenagers see their full potential and encourage them to attend college.

"I try to find talents kids have and encourage them," said Warren, who is a teacher at East St. Louis Senior High School. "A lot of kids don't think they have the capability to do it. I try to encourage them all to go to school."

"She motivates us," senior Demonte Benjamin, 17, said of Warren. "She pushes us to strive to go to college."

Warren along with 104 educators throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area -- including more than 30 from the metro-east -- will be honored with an Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award for their role in shaping students' lives during a ceremony Sunday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Clayton, Mo. Each honoree will be presented with an engraved Crystal Apple award made by Tiffany's.

"It means a lot to me," Warren said of the award.

"We are extremely proud and honored that Ms. Warren is being recognized for her time, talents, dedication and service to our students," said Arthur Culver, superintendent of East St. Louis District 189.

Winning awards isn't new for Warren. She recently won an Award of Merit from the Illinois State Board of Education and was a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2009.

Warren sees herself as an unconventional teacher. "I'm a nut. I tell it like it is, and I don't play," she said. "I'm not here to be their friend. I'm here to help them think, not tell them what to think."

She uses four R's to teach her students - relevance, relationship, rigor and research. "We have to make it relevant, and they have to build relationships with each other, me and the content," Warren said.

"I believe she's an excellent teacher," said senior Jwauhn Askew. "She explains it in a way where we can understand it."

Senior Catie Lewis, 18, said Warren "isn't like any other teacher. She can show you, tell you and give you examples," Catie said. "She makes it fun."

The "ahh moments" are the best thing about teaching, Warren said. "When they finally get it and really start to understand things," she said.

Warren, 54, has taught at East St. Louis Senior High School for 10 years. Prior to coming to East St. Louis, she taught at Metropolitan High School in St. Louis.

At East St. Louis, she teaches forensic science, speech, senior English and theater. "I can teach anything except physics and P.E.," she said.

Warren has a master's degree in education and a master's degree in herpetology, both from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Texas.

Warren, who grew up in Texas, served four years in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps and attended the Naval School of Health Sciences.

She taught at the college and professional level, before deciding to become a high school teacher using her certifications in pharmacology from the U.S. Navy and death investigator with the St. Louis University School of Medicine.

"I saw a lot of young ladies not getting into sciences, especially women of color," Warren said. "My mom said instead of complaining about it, do something about it."

Warren also is involved in extracurricular activities at East St. Louis Senior High. She coaches the speech team and the National Beta Club and helps with the National Honor Society and the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program.

She lives in Prairietown with her husband. They have five dogs and more than 200 reptiles.

In her spare time, Warren enjoys painting, drawing, sculpting, playing musical instruments, scrapbooking and taking long walks in the country.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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