Dorothy Shelton had plans to be an accountant until her experience as a Sunday school teacher changed her path forever.
“The children were so excited and motivated at certain things you were saying,” said Shelton. “I was just becoming so thrilled and excited being with them, and I said maybe this is what I would become - an instructor, an educator.”
Thirty-years later, it’s clear Shelton found her calling. The George Cox Elementary second grade teacher was named Jefferson Parish Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year during the 2019-20 school year.
When she first started teaching, Shelton admits she was nervous and wondered if she was cut out for the profession. Soon, however, she started noticing talents and gifts even she didn’t realize she had.
“Especially when I saw students have that ‘ah ha’ moment,” said Shelton. “I could see the light bulb going off and it just made me so excited to see that I was helping someone to be able to achieve something in their lives.”
Over her three decades in the classroom, Shelton has experienced her fair share of changes. There have been advances in technology along with shifts in teaching styles and learning materials. She’s also seen changes in the lives of her students. These changes at home can often make her job more challenging.
“What happens in their life and the things that they are challenged with at home actually comes to school them,” said Shelton. “It’s hard for them to concentrate or get the things that they need as children because they are thinking about adult issues that they are going through and the challenges that they have once they reach home. So we are very nurturing, and that is so, so important for the kids in order to see that we are behind them and support them.”
Shelton said she has been fortunate to work with exceptional principals who instilled a culture that believes in the potential of every child. She’s also part of a team that believes in the potential of every teacher - especially when it comes to supporting new teachers.
“We give them the knowledge that we have acquired to make sure that not only are they not feeling stressed, but to show them that it’s okay,” said Shelton. “It’s a learning time and they will be able to be successful.”
Jefferson Parish Schools places a premium on job-specific professional development for all teachers. Iron sharpens iron, and the educators Shelton works with take advantage of job-embedded professional development to learn from each other and constantly get better for kids.
“It helps us to see that we are the ones who teach, but we are also the ones who learn,” said Shelton. “Every day we can always learn something new. We all learn from each other, and that’s what makes us so powerful. To be able to pass our teaching on to students to show that this is the way we work as adults and you always learn and that’s what’s important. We all are learning together for all of us to grow.”
It’s growth that keeps Shelton going strong after 30 years in the classroom. She said her students make her feel like a superstar (Beyonce to be exact) and there’s no greater gift than seeing the success her kids earn after they graduate.
“I have students who are judges and lawyers and doctors, teachers themselves, principals, and it is so rewarding to see that I had just a little impact within their life,” said Shelton. “To say that I was just a seed that was given, that was planted, and has grown to an adult where they are successful and they have this life that’s really rewarding. It just makes me feel so good.”