2020 Educator of Excellence: Christine Shultz
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But more often than not, life’s journey is more of a windy path. That windy road, full of ups and downs, is how Christine Shultz ended up in a Memphis classroom.
While studying communications in college, Shultz worked at a non-profit where she learned about Teach for America. Her experiences at the non-profit opened her eyes to the realization that “we spend a lot of time complaining about social injustices and inequality but not that much time acting on it.” So, she decided to act.
“I discovered that what I'm most passionate about was making sure education is equitable for everybody,” she says. “I feel very blessed that I had an awesome education up until I became a teacher, and I feel that everybody deserves to have that. I became an educator to try to make change from the inside, and I've continued to be an educator because I'm seeing how students are leading the path to making the change. I'm along for the ride and that's just a wonderful place to be.”
Shultz admits that she initially ended up in Memphis because she thought it would be like Nashville, but the reality was far better than she imagined. “I love Memphis because it has a small town feel but you still get all of the benefits of being in a city. I think as an educator, Memphis is a special place because I think this is one of few places you can start having an impact early in your education career. I think they're looking for new talent [here], and they're willing to develop new talent quicker than larger cities. There's a lot of innovation being part of the education system in Memphis right now. There are so many opportunities to be under 30 and making change in your community.”
Part of that change was internal for Shultz. After teaching special education in high school, she switched to middle school where she is now an 8th grade special education teacher at Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter Middle School-Flagship Campus. Her belief that a strong foundation in early education significantly impacts the future success of students triggered her switch.
“I teach 8th grade, and I previously taught 9th-12th grade students,” she explains. “The reason I switched to teaching younger students was because I was so frustrated that I had students coming in [to high school] reading on a second grade level. I just could not understand how that had happened. I watched students who worked hard still not growing in reading. That's because you can only teach consonants and letter sounds for so long before no one has the time for that. What's happening is you're having students who are still working on one syllable words in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade when they're supposed to be reading very high texts according to Common Core. That's not acceptable. It's so frustrating because you know that if a student is struggling with a second grade reading passage, I cannot imagine what they're getting out of a history class, a science class, or even a math class. If you don't have a strong reading foundation, you're going to pretty much be struggling your whole day. Which then goes back to - if you sit in a class for 7 hours and aren't successful, how do you feel about yourself? The remedy, along with strong early education, is taking time to pause, listen, evaluate what a student is saying, and teach advocacy skills even if it means the lesson is going to take a little longer.
It's more important for a student to believe in themselves and know how to advocate because, at the end of the day, that's a life skill versus can they multiply fractions. Humble yourself to the moment and say it's more important that my student is growing in ways you can't put on paper.”