Mary Spencer was a first rate teacher but also a surrogate mom to many of her pupils.

There is no question that Mary Elizabeth Bond Spencer is unusual, if not entirely unique. She spent her entire teaching career – 41 years – at one school, Jefferson. She started on Sept. 6, 1960, the year the school opened. Though the school stood in the shadow of the Pruitt-Igoe and Vaughn housing projects, which would become notorious, Spencer said Jefferson students got a first-class education. Spencer recalled that then-superintendent Samuel Shepherd Jr. would single out the school for having the best test scores and most innovative programs.


Many teachers and a whole lot of principals moved on from Jefferson when times got tough, but Spencer stayed. That, of course, is how she was able to tell her students that she taught their grandmas and grandpas, moms and dads, aunts and uncles. I remember the minute we walked into her classroom that we were expected to perform … not just as students, but as properly behaved children. “I’m the momma,” she told us. “I have a loud voice. If I call you, you stop and holler, ‘Ma’am!’ You come and see what I want. Do you understand me?”


To which we would all answer in unison, “Yessss.’’


“We are high class,” she told us. “We’re not ghetto.”



Mary Spencer

By Evita Caldwell

Photos by J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Watch Evita Caldwell's interview with Mary Spencer