By Jasmine Jones
This story was first published as “Faces of Southeast Missouri: Dr. Sheila Long” in the November 2023 issue of The Best Years.
“Think outside the box.”
It’s a phrase Dr. Sheila Long says she tells her students constantly, a phrase that embodies her own teaching methods and daily life.
Long is an instructor in the Department of Child and Family Studies at Southeast Missouri State University. She teaches courses covering creativity in young
children, family finance and family dynamics. One of the courses she teaches is Creative Thought and Expression in Children, which teaches students about the
development of creative expression in children through theory, practical application and experiential learning.
Her creativity class does not look like a typical college class; there’s a lot more singing, dancing and performing involved. Long says she doesn’t allow her students to buy art supplies for their class projects, either. She says children use what is available in their environment to express their creativity, and Long wants her college students to do the same.
“Children get up every morning, [and] when their feet hit the floor, they are using their creative brain. You don’t have to teach them how to be creative, it’s
in them. … They can be anybody that they want to be without being judged. As adults, society puts so many restrictions on us,” Long says.
Long wants her college students to realize how often they use creativity in their daily lives, such as choosing what to eat or wear.
Currently, Long is solely focused on teaching college, but she used to teach preschool and owned her own daycare. Long’s passion for education runs in her
family. As a child, Long’s mother was her preschool teacher; later, Long was her own youngest daughter’s preschool teacher.
“[Preschoolers] are a joy. They are full of energy. They want to learn. They are perky, upbeat, and that’s me. And so, I found my niche,” Long says. “I teach pre-K and college. That’s a huge difference, but that’s my niche.”
Long loves her job, so she says “it’s play” to her. Her creativity course is a general elective, so students from all majors — not only family studies — take the class, but she wants them to know how applicable the knowledge is for knowing how children’s minds work.
“Children’s minds are blank slates. What are you putting on their mind? What are you teaching them? The more you do, the more they learn. Their brains are like sponges. Fill that sponge up,” Long says. “That’s what we do with teaching. And if you love what you do, it’s an awesome experience.”
Outside of the classroom, Long enjoys spending time with her family and her dog Duke, whom her children call “boujee,” because he does not like getting his feet wet, but does have specific diet preferences, including Sam’s Club hot dogs and snack-size Doritos.
When she has time to travel, she visits Northern Louisiana where she’s from and picks up seasoning to make her favorite Louisiana dishes.
“Overall, I have a ball,” Long says. “I decided, let’s just have fun, and that’s what I do. Life is about what you put in.”