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Storytelling Is not Dead: Interview 12 – Sheryl Shields

Please check out my previous Storytelling posts here.  And my 365 Reviews here.

Welcome to interview twelve!

Before Sheryl Shields was a Master Life Coach, she was a member of the Alan B. Shepard English Department, offering up wisdom and stirring the pot in the best possible ways.

She believes every student deserved a passionate teacher and offers workshops, classes, and retreats to help them do just that. After more than 20 years in the classroom, Sheryl retired from teaching in 2017.  She knows firsthand the stressful demands of teaching and authored Teaching can kill you: How to Survive and BE HAPPE in the classroom where she dispenses her recipe for surviving as a teacher.  Sheryl loves sharing real-life stories to help teachers tap into the thoughts that cause negative emotions and actions.  She believes everyone, especially those who work in schools, should learn the tenants of “Emotional Happiness which explains why she is best known as “The Happe Life Coach.”  Her personal motto, Life is too short to do work you hate propelled her to retire early.

Me: Much of our story comes from our past.  Having been a teacher for so long, how do you feel that your classroom time has shaped your current story?

SS: My time in the classroom made me a lot more confident.  Knowing how to command the attention of 32 inattentive teens is an art all in itself.  It also taught me how to build strong relationships because that’s the most important part of teaching as well as how to be honest and sincere.  Teaching and learning is a two-way street.  I think the most important thing I learned is patience.  I had to be patient with the student who hated school and writing.  By allowing them to be who they were and giving them valid reasons for completing assignments helped me see that I could make a difference in their lives which was most important to me.

Me: I remember a powerful story you once told me about a negative teacher that had a great impact on you and your learning motivation.  Would you share that story with us and how it shaped you?

SS: When I was in 9th grade my English teacher hated me.  I don’t remember ever being rude or disrespectful in his class.  I may have been quite the social butterfly which may explain why I sat in the front of the class.  One day while passing out our tests he said, “Ms. Shields you don’t have to fail the test because you hate my class,” as he slammed my test on my desk with the big red “F” he circled several times to emphasize the seriousness of the grade.

I was extremely embarrassed and wished I could simply disappear especially after several of my classmates snickered rather obnoxiously behind me.  He looked quite pleased that he had shamed me in front of my peers and I vowed to never, ever speak in his class again which was hard because I love to talk.  He’d purposely ask me questions and I give a short response but nothing more.  I hated his class but vowed to pass with the highest grade.  This experience hurt because he didn’t have to be so mean.  The worst part is that I never shared this horrible experience with my mom because I didn’t want to be reminded of that horrendous day.  Years later, when I became a teacher I knew I’d never treat my students like that because of how deeply it hurt.  If I ever said something that I thought might embarrass my students I’d quickly apologize in front of the whole class.  I wanted every student that sat before me to feel loved and supported because I knew firsthand how shameful it felt to be ridiculed.

Me: That’s really powerful.  What advice would you give a young teacher looking to create their own story in this difficult age of teaching?

SS: I’d advise young teachers to focus on building relationships with their students, especially the difficult ones and to understand that it’ll take a few years before you master teaching the content.  It’s also important to find a mentor you admire even if you’ve been assigned someone else.  Know that the first few years can be difficult.  It’s also important to create some sort of work/life balance because burnout can set in pretty quickly and engulf your whole life if you don’t take time to surround yourself with those care about and enjoy your personal life.  Teaching can be extremely demanding if you think you have to do every single thing every single day.  You can’t so don’t even try.

Create a reasonable to-do list with 5 things and focus on that.  Anything else can go on tomorrow’s list.  Also, you don’t have to prove that you’re smarter, more dedicated or better than anyone else.  You received a college degree and were certified to teach your class so that’s more than enough.  You have what it takes to do the work and when you’re feeling down or need help ask for it from someone you trust and respect (your chosen mentor).  It’s important that you enjoy your class and your students and have fun.  Cherish the wins and don’t sweat the losses.

Me: Sound advice.  Tell me something about you that I don’t know, and how has that shaped you as a person today.

SS: I never thought I’d be a teacher.  All of my degrees were in journalism and broadcasting.  My goal was to anchor the nightly news or have my own talk show.  I desperately wanted to work for Oprah but never did and realized that it wasn’t my calling.  I started subbing when my daughter went to kindergarten and enjoyed working with kids.  Helping them see the bigger picture inspired me to get my teaching certification six years later.  I loved sharing my passion for writing and broadcasting with my students and realized I was born to do this kind of work.  I’m grateful how I now get to combine all of my skills, talents, and experiences to help teachers live healthier and happier lives in my life coaching practice.

I love this new chapter where I get to create programs that help teachers love what they do while creating a plan to transition to another career.  It’s horrifying how every teacher who walks into the classroom will burn out at some point in their career.  The good news is that they don’t have to.  I’m starting The Happe Teacher’s Club in January to help them deal with the stressful demands of such a challenging career.  It’s a year-long program where we meet twice a month online to tackle the difficult parts of the job and make self-care a priority.

Me: What are some of your favorite stories?  Films, TV, books…

SS: Some of my favorite stories are from teaching American Literature.  The Trickster and Coyote stories were filled with valuable life lessons and the good guy always won.  My favorite genre of books is self-help because I love helping my clients live healthier and happier lives.  Some of my favorite books are “Their eyes were watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, “Loving what is” by Byron Katie, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho and everything ever written by  Maya Angelou.

I would like to thank the always amazing Sheryl Shields for taking the time to chat with me today.  She’s a wonderful person and always a treat to chat with!  Please check her out on FB at “The Happe Teacher.”

Happy Storytelling!


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