“St. Louis is so cliquey” is one of the first criticisms I hear about my adopted hometown. I can see how folks might feel that way, but I prefer to see St. Louis as having many close knit groups that are passionate about specific attributes or causes in the region. If you’re willing to put in some effort, this cliquey mentality can actually work in your favor. Here are a few tips that have helped me flip this paradigm:
- Meet people and actively remember them for the future. My middle school students used to be so offended on the second day of school if I didn’t remember or confused their names; after all, I’d met them just once the day before! I am naturally not good with remembering names, but it is a skill I’ve worked to actively develop since becoming a teacher and it’s served me well. Beyond just learning names, I try to find out and remember pieces of a person’s story upon first meeting. Most of the time the things I remember are details that dovetail with my own interests or I can connect to my own life, which helps me to draw this new person into my personal clique and ensure that next time we are in the same place at the same time I can acknowledge and take advantage of the fact that we’ve met before. Aren’t we all just insecure middle schoolers in adult bodies longing to fit in?
- Be a joiner. One of the best things I did during my first year in St. Louis while buried under piles of grading and super behind on my lesson plans was that I joined two groups: a church and a choir. These groups helped me find a (spiritual and creative) grounding and provided a structure for meeting people and experiencing St. Louis. Within these groups, I connected with others who weren’t TFA or teachers in my school and I gained a broader perspective of St. Louis, its history, and its amenities. We’re fortunate to live in a community where there are many things to join, including book clubs at the local library or pick up Frisbee games at the park. You may also be joining TFA alumni groups but having a non-TFA commitment is key to breaking the St. Louis cliques.
- Follow Up. It’s amazing how many people I meet who say they are going to reach out to me but never do. It makes those folks who actually do follow up and follow through that much more standout. Follow up has the added bonus of continuing the original conversation and establishing more of a basis for a real relationship as opposed to a transaction. If you provide some sort of information in follow up, it might even put you in the debt of the other person, not a bad position to be in if you’re looking for an invite into the clique.
Don’t shy away from the St. Louis clique stereotype; use it to your advantage. TFA alone can’t solve the issues our community is facing around education, we’ve got to infiltrate other groups and find our common ground and causes.
Happy New Year,
Manager of Talent Development
Regional Business Council
Past Chair, TFA Alumni Advisory Board
Katie is a 2003 STL corps member originally from Western NY. She oversees several programs at the Regional Business Council focused on attracting, retaining, and developing young professional talent. She is a joiner by nature, recently committing to Stray Dog Theatre Board of Directors to help develop arts education and outreach in the community.