Sohailah Stout may have been gifted in
music, but she was determined to design and build things. If Oral Roberts
University had a degree in architecture, she would have enrolled, but she
settled for civil engineering. Stout was on track to graduate early when her
heart forced a career change. The would-be engineer turned choir teacher was
named the Teacher of the Year for Canyon Ridge Intermediate for 2017-2018.
“I love science and math and in the eighth grade, they (teachers) said ‘You do so well in science and math, you should be an engineer.’ Music was just something I did. I thought, ‘Everybody does music.’”
Midway through her sophomore year of college, doubts about her career choice rose to the surface. She’s an energetic, commanding presence with a raucous, infectious laugh.
“I was looking at the rest of the people who were engineers and they were super quiet and super studious,” she said. “I wasn’t sure this was for me.”
The pastor and his wife from her home church were visiting Oral Roberts, so Stout stopped by. He asked her why she had chosen engineering. She explained: math and science are challenging and she’s good at them both.
“Do you really think that’s where God wants you?” She remembered him asking. “Why don’t we pray.”
Stout didn’t want him to pray. She was already having doubts about her degree choice. Praying would mean acknowledging those doubts instead of pretending they weren’t there. She had taken summer school and was set to graduate in three-and-a-half years. A degree change would mean she would have 16 credits of math and 18 credits of science that wouldn't count.
“He started praying for me and by the time he was done, I knew I was supposed to be in music,” she said.
When she broke the news to her parents,
her father, an educator, was thrilled. Her mother, worried about her financial
future, was not.
She herself was still not convinced.
“How could I be a teacher? No one was going to listen to me,” she said. “I don’t like wooden necklaces. I don’t like denim jumpers. I don’t like bulletin boards.”
The first time she walked into a high school to start student teaching, she was turned loose in a class of 10 chattering students. She brought her music theory book from college and they learned basic theory. The next hour, she was sent to work with a group of altos. Fourth hour, she was told to take a group of young men into the next room and teach them their part for a festival in two weeks. The words were in German. She told them to stand up. One student asked, “What if we don’t want to?”
“I said, ’There is no option. I said stand up.’ And they did.That’s when I decided, Oh, they will listen. After I realized they would listen, I was no longer scared.”
She started teaching in Sapulpa in
“My second year of teaching I almost quit because it was so difficult,” she said “I was at two schools and I traveled every other day. I had 300 kids at one school and 200 kids at another school and I taught 10 back-to-back 30 minute lessons a day. It was exhausting. At the end of the year I thought, ‘This is not worth it.’ I had a teacher who was a mentor to me who said ‘Think of one kid.’ And I thought of Missy. When I looked out every day Missy was always paying attention. She was always engaged. She was always ready. I thought, ‘Missy deserves a good music teacher. I’ll come back for Missy because I don’t know who she’ll have if I leave, and Missy deserves a good teacher.’”
Stout stayed in Sapulpa for seven years. She
remains in touch with many of the students, meeting them for coffee, or going
to weddings. She sees Missy, a mother of three, once or twice a year.
When she was 30, Stout resigned. She
was young, single and out of debt. She went to Europe for five months, the near
east and North Africa by herself. When she came back, she applied to be a tour
guide with America Christian Tours and led students on tours from Jamestown and
Williamsburg to Washington D.C., New York City and Boston.
When a private school in Sapulpa called
to offer her a job, she taught sixth through 12th grade plus a discipleship
class. Then she moved on to Broken Arrow and then back to being a tour guide.
There were other career steps along the way, but when she married a man from
Oklahoma City, she eventually found her way to teaching fifth and sixth grade
vocal music at Canyon Ridge Intermediate.
“My favorite thing is teaching them the subject matter, teaching them about decency and mentoring them if they need that,” she said. “The hardest thing about teaching at Canyon Ridge is I only get them for two years.”
Stout is working on a master’s in educational leadership through the University of Central Oklahoma. She’s the current co-chair for Circle the State with Song. Next year, she will be the co-chair of the All-State Children’s Chorus.
In all, Stout is in her 22nd year of
teaching. There are rarely behavior problems in her class because there is no
time for misbehaving and the rules are always clear.
“My room is safe because they know exactly what is expected, exactly,” she said. “It’s not about me, it’s about being consistent because some of them don’t have a lot of that in their lives. It’s probably the most exhausting thing in my job, a commitment to be consistent because they need that.”
Why does she keep teaching?
“Because there are more kids to teach,” she said. “I keep doing it because I love excellence and challenging students. This is not an ability issue, this is a focus issue. I love continually challenging them to want to think, to want to work hard.”
Stout is one of 14 Teachers of the Year
for Mustang Public Schools. The District Teacher of the Year will be announced
at a banquet at the end of March.