Shelley Jeoffroy ('04 BA, English)
Shelley Jeoffroy, a fifth grade mathematics teacher at Otis Brown Elementary School in Irving, has been named the 2023 Texas Teacher of the Year by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA). A UTA alumna with a degree in English and a minor in biology, she has taught numerous subjects, primarily math and science, for 18 years, including the last 16 in Irving ISD.
What was your reaction when you learned you were receiving this prestigious award?
I was deeply humbled and honored. I have had the great privilege to work alongside such talented and dedicated teachers and leaders, and I have learned so much from so many. I feel I am a culmination of all those lucky experiences, and in that way, it is not my recognition alone.
During this past year, it has been such an honor to spend time with the other regional teachers of the year and the other state nominees, all so dynamic with what they bring to the classroom. I am so proud to be honored for a profession of such passion and influence, and I hope to represent and serve educators well in this role as we continue to work together toward creating the very best educational opportunities for all students.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a ranch in Santo, which is about an hour or so west of the metroplex. I really value having roots in a small town because there really are no strangers. The line between family and friends is blurry, and the sense of community is deep. I attended school in Santo until my senior year, then moved to Weatherford, where I graduated from Weatherford High School. I think my graduating class at Weatherford had about the same number of students as my whole K-12 campus at Santo.
What led you to come to UTA?
After initially starting at Weatherford College, I wanted to continue my studies at a university with a great deal of diversity and a global student body. I definitely found that at UTA! I moved into Centennial Court Apartments, and I had roomies from all over the world. It was the best experience! Through each of them, I connected to larger groups from different countries. I got a B.A. in English and a minor in biology. Later, I returned for my education credentials in UTA's graduate program. I have been a science curriculum writer and trainer, so I'd say UTA's College of Science gets plenty of credit for influencing my professional endeavors!
What made you decide to become a teacher?
My initial plan was to pursue a career in law. However, I began to realize something deeper was missing for me. Also, during this time, I was able to travel more and experience the world, and time and time again, I was fascinated at how profoundly the role of education played into the shaping and elevation of societies. I saw how teaching was really THE pivot of possibilities, and I was inspired by the power of the position. I am so grateful for the amazing teachers I have had all throughout my education. I could easily go through each and every grade level and discuss specific reasons and experiences that I remember, and which had a positive influence not just on my academics but on my life even to this day.
What has your teaching journey looked like?
My initial plan was to teach overseas with the Department of Defense. However, my mother (now a breast cancer survivor) received her diagnosis and began undergoing intense surgeries and treatments, so I began teaching for Irving ISD. I have taught 5th grade, all subjects, but predominantly math and science. I spent a few years teaching 4th but returned to 5th. Since the pandemic, I have been teaching exclusively math. I have also worked in different educational capacities in Kenya, Peru, Morocco, and Mexico. Outside of the U.S. I have taught math, science, art, and English. I have taught age groups ranging from 8 to 17.
Can you tell us about your experiences working with students in other countries?
Any teacher will tell you that they learn more from their students than they teach them, and that is wholly the case when I teach outside of the U.S. One of the most professionally impactful experiences I had was teaching in Kenya at a school for kids who formerly lived in the streets. We took boxes of materials to use in the classroom; I wrapped science materials in plastic bags for protection, and the kids took the bags and a bit of string and made soccer balls out of them. I thought, "Wow, they are all engineers!" I would give students a few materials, and they were so thrilled with whatever they were provided. They would take it and construct and create any number of impressive products. They were naturally innovative due to necessity. This influenced me greatly to push for more opportunities for students to innovate in the classroom and to advocate that this should occur with equity. Students don't just need to reproduce evidence that they remember facts and figures, but they need to be able to create and think outside the box with their obtained knowledge. Innovation is what moves economies.
Working in other countries, I like to understand how they successfully address obstacles, how they strive for equity, and how the role of the teacher is regarded in different cultures and societies. Globally, teaching is a very esteemed profession. In India, for example, it was explained to me that the role of the teacher is third, with the first being one's spiritual life, then parents, then the teacher. In much of Europe, being a teacher is highly respected, much like a profession in medicine or law. What is universal is that the relationship a teacher invests in with students, their families, and communities is a critical component of educational success.
With all the challenges that teachers face today, what is it about teaching that drives you?
Education is the bedrock for all other professions and pursuits, and as such, it is a uniquely powerful and rewarding profession. Teachers leave legacies—not one or two but potentially hundreds or even thousands. Teachers positively influence individual lives, generational dynamics, economies, societies, and ultimately the world. That’s the grand arc, but on the daily it is the fun and creativity and the connections with kids in the classroom. It’s never, ever boring!
-- Written by Greg Pederson, College of Science