“When students realize they can achieve more than they thought they were capable of doing," Jacksonville High School teacher Theresa Shadrix said, " those moments when they are proud of themselves are magical.”
This passion Shadrix has for cultivating confidence in her students may be why those same students were so inspired to nominate her for our October Excellence in Education award.
Currently teaching English Language Arts, Creative Writing and, Golden Eagle Media—a student media club that helps run the social media handles for JHS—Shadrix has 12 years of experience as an educator within several school districts. In a previous life, Shadrix was staff writer for The Anniston Star, an experience that continues to influence her career today.
Read about how Theresa Shadrix made the life-changing decision to begin a career in education and the impact mentorship has had on her life.
How did you get started in education?
I became intrigued by the teaching profession while employed at The Anniston Star. Dr. Jeff Goodwin, who was the Superintendent at Oxford City Schools at the time, generously shared insights with me about it.
Initially, I had envisioned entering teaching when my sons were older, but at the conclusion of that school year, Dr. Goodwin reached out to me and suggested I apply for a position in Career Technical Education. The decision to leave a job I considered a dream and pursue another dream was challenging, but ultimately, it proved to be a life-changing choice.
What is your favorite unit to teach?
I worked in journalism for The Anniston Star before I became a teacher. I was immersed in researching the Freedom Rides and the impact on the civil rights movement during the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. For the 60th anniversary, I was the Freelance Editor for The Anniston Star’s special publication, which won first place from the Alabama Press Association in 2022. Plus, I worked as a Freelance Researcher on the JSU/APT collaboration “A Fire in Anniston” documentary.
So, a favorite unit is sharing my research, inviting Freedom Riders to speak to students, and helping students learn about the Freedom Rides.
My English students just finished reading “Buses Are A Comin” by Charles Person, and it allowed them to understand the power of uniting for a cause that benefits an entire group of people.
What part of your job do you wish you’d known earlier?
I was a bit naive in thinking that all teachers had one formula for teaching. I have since discovered that teaching is an art form and each classroom is a blank canvas.
What do you do outside of work?
I love spending time with my husband, Mickey, two sons, my daughter-in-law, and extended family. I am always working on some kind of project whether it is writing, editing, reading, researching, or creating. Recently, I’ve been focused on learning the delicate art of caring for plants. Interestingly, I have discovered that nourishing them is quite like that of people—too much care can be just as disastrous as not enough.
What inspires you?
When a student tells me she is not a “good reader,” and I explain that reading is a skill, not a gene, it’s inspiring when that student embraces reading or tries her best. As a teacher, inspiration comes when students are creating and learning in a way that inspires them.
Inside the Classroom
What is your approach to teaching students?
I try to teach with authenticity and openness. I was one of ten IDEO Teachers Guild Fellows in 2017-2018 and infuse human-centered design-thinking into my approach to teaching students.
For example, the approach to problems is not something to fear as much as they are opportunities for learning and finding solutions. If I’m reading research about student learning, I share what I’m learning with them.
Are you familiar with APT and PBSLearning Media? If so, how do you use these resources in the classroom?
I attended a workshop facilitated by Tracey Carter at the 2023 Alabama Literacy Association Conference and learned more about the available resources. I have since used them in my classroom. Specifically, the videos on the Freedom Riders and civil rights movement were helpful.
I set a goal towards the K-12 Certified Educator Program and look forward to being a part of the Media Literacy Educator Professional Learning Community in January.
What’s a common misconception about your job?
That teachers are superheroes. It’s not as if we fell into a pit of toxic waste and emerged with powers. We are human and, in our humanity, are imperfect. If we’re to help students embrace failures in order to succeed, we must do the same for each other.
Tell us about a time when you helped a student overcome a problem.
A notable example involves a graphic arts student at Oxford High School who entered my class as a freshman. Initially perceived as a "class clown," I encouraged him to participate in SkillsUSA, a decision that he hesitated to accept at first. Over the years, I continued to challenge him with various leadership opportunities, leading to his appointment as a SkillsUSA state officer. By his senior year, he achieved recognition as the Alabama SkillsUSA Career Tech Student of the Year in 2018. The leadership skills he developed during his high school journey have persisted into his college and professional life, where he is now married and employed in the marketing industry.
This experience emphasizes the importance of not prematurely judging students, as it is our responsibility to provide opportunities that can pave the way for their success.
Another significant challenge involved reviving the Golden Eagle Media class at Jacksonville High School. Despite the ongoing dilemma of limited space and finding suitable locations for filming, the students have turned these constraints into an advantage by considering the entire school as their studio.
This student-led initiative has empowered them to manage our social media accounts, produce the weekly news segment "The Fly," livestream sporting events, and coordinate photography for the school and local media outlets such as The Anniston Star and East Alabama Sports Today. As a PBS Reporting Lab, Golden Eagle Media students have even been featured on PBS Newshour.
How do you encourage student curiosity?
In my classroom, I strive to establish a judgment-free zone, encouraging students to ask questions. I not only welcome inquiries but also actively engage in seeking answers together.
I am mindful of the language I use with students. For instance, I prefer to use "when" rather than "if" when discussing goals. I say things like "when you graduate," "when you start a business," and "when you read," emphasizing a positive and proactive mindset.
What advice would you share with people who are interested in becoming teachers?
If you want to be the type of teacher whose lessons leave a legacy, then definitely pursue your goal to become a teacher. Embrace your creative journey, read in order to understand, be careful of listening to negativity in the education community, and find a mentor who can help you in your teaching skills.
When I started teaching, I met Randy Bruce, who was a graphic arts and digital media CTE teacher at Florence High School in Florence, Alabama. Randy was one of the most encouraging mentors I’ve had in education. Even when I transitioned from CTE to teaching English, he continued to call and text me with ideas and motivation for helping students learn. Sadly, Randy passed away unexpectedly in September 2023, but his lessons will remain with me.
What advice would you give a first-year teacher?
- Approach students with humility and empathy because students will learn to be humble and understanding.
- Learn to laugh at yourself because the students will learn to laugh. Read and share what you are learning. For example, in my Creative Writing class, I begin each class reading from The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin.
- Be honest about your expectations. Embrace failures. Don’t take work home so that you can focus on your family and yourself.