Going above and beyond for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ students isn’t hard when you’re passionate about teaching.
That’s the philosophy and essence of two south Charlotte teachers who were recently named CMS 2014 Teacher of the Year finalists. Dee Chinault, science lab teacher at Endhaven Elementary School, and Lecia Shockley, a second-grade teacher at Selwyn Elementary School, are two of seven teachers narrowed down from the pool of more than 9,000 in CMS. The seven finalists were chosen by their schools and learning communities to compete for the top prize of CMS Teacher of the Year. That winner will be announced on Thursday, May 22.
Chinault was chosen not only by her colleagues at Endhaven Elementary School, but also leaders in the South Learning Community. She’s worked in CMS since 2002, serving only at Endhaven, Chinault said, though she’s been a teacher for 30 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Radford University and a master’s degree from the University of Houston.
Teaching wasn’t the original plan for Chinault. Although she’s always been interested in science, her first choice of study was nursing. But while receiving hands-on experience at a hospital, she always found herself with the kids, sitting bedside, reading books or playing games.
“I always found myself in pediatrics, not as much nursing as doing teaching,” Chinault said. “I decided then I wanted to switch gears.”
Teaching science lab was a big draw for Chinault. Her love for science always comes out in hands-on experiences, she said, and in natural exploration. She wanted the same for her students, as they learn to better understand the world around them. That’s why she’s also helped provide more STEM education and learning in all of Endhaven’s classrooms over the past several years, including kindergarten through fifth grade. Engaging elementary students in science, technology, engineering and math is important for students to be successful in middle and high school and beyond, Chinault said. She’s also helped implement programs and clubs like GEMS, or Girls Engaged in Math and Science, a club for girls in third through fifth grades, and Science Wednesdays, an opportunity for students across all grade levels to share science experiments, research and topics on the school’s morning news program. Chinault developed the Science Wednesday program several years ago because “students weren’t speaking the language of science,” she said. Chinault also helped implement an engineering class for all grade levels, something found in few elementary schools.
“In elementary school that’s where we lay the foundation. If I can get them interested in STEM in elementary school, then I feel like I can really accomplish what I want,” Chinault said.
Chinault gives credit to CMS elementary science specialist Wayne Fisher as her biggest inspiration and mentor, she said. Fisher has been instrumental in providing Chinault with the support in not only curriculum and program ideas, but also in just inspiring her to take on new challenges.
“For me, teaching is something I’m passionate about. It’s not just the job I come to everyday to get paid. That’s important,” Chinault said, “but it’s that little inner voice that calls me to be here and be devoted to it. I want the students to see my energy and love for science.”
Lecia Shockley, who was chosen by teachers at Selwyn Elementary and then the Central Learning Community, has been a teacher for 16 years spending all her time in CMS. Growing up in Michigan and South Dakota, Shockley’s family moved to the D.C. metropolitan area when she was a senior. She started school at Virginia Tech to study education before getting married and moving to Charlotte. Soon after, she became a mom, putting her career on hold. But when her oldest was in school, she was “re-inspired” after seeing the dedication of teachers in action. She went back to school at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1998. She’s been at Selwyn for six years now, a school that sits in her own community.
“I could walk to school,” Shockley said. “All the kids I see in my class, I see when I’m out. It really does have a feeling of community.”
That feeling is something that inspires Shockley to go above and beyond for her students. With programs like Books at Bedtime, where Shockley visits every student’s home throughout the school year to read a nightly bedtime story, and school pizza nights where Shockley’s family eats dinner with her students and their families, Shockley’s priority is relationships. She has a strong relationship with her own family at home, she said, which helps her when she gets to the classroom.
“My students get the tough love from me and the warm snuggles. To get that balance, I always have to go back home to do what I do at school. (My family) always charge me up for what I do here,” Shockley said, though finding that balance isn’t easy.
Shockley’s initial inspiration to go into teaching came from her grandfather, she said, who was a high school teacher, principal and coach. Not realizing it until years later that learning was difficult for her grandfather – that’s why he worked so hard at it and that’s where his passion came from.
“When I was younger, I didn’t always know that about him… That kind of person who loves learning even when it’s tough inspires me so much,” Shockley said. “That’s what I want any child in my classroom to walk away with. I want them to leave loving learning. Then I feel like I’ve been successful.”