Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Lifestyles

May 1, 2014

TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Shoemaker offers students lessons from the ‘real world’

CROSSVILLE — The call to teach came late to Rachel Shoemaker, Cumberland County Teacher of the Year for grades 9-12. In fact, she had gone to school to study interior design with no thought at all to teaching.

"It was the last thing I thought I would do," Shoemaker said, adding she came from a long line of educators and had wanted to strike out in her own direction.

She was working in Cookeville designing cabinets at Lowe's when an opportunity to teach Family and Consumer Sciences at Cumberland County High School came open in 2007. She's been teaching since that time.

"When I tried it, there was no turning back," Shoemaker said of teaching. "I didn't want to do anything else."

Family and Consumer Sciences is an umbrella that encompasses what she studied in the College of Human Ecology at Tennessee Technological University, such as child development, teaching as a profession and sewing.

While interior design was her first love, teaching child development became her favorite subject, and she found her creativity helped keep her students engaged in learning.

"Teaching takes creativity," she said. "Without it, lessons would be boring, classes would be monotonous and students would be disengaged. Creativity enables me to employ multiple teaching strategies to teach one concept."

Child and life development focuses on brain development and follows the life cycle from birth to death, primarily from a caregiver perspective, such as working in a daycare or educational setting.

The family dynamic is something she believes is crucial in her classroom, where she plays the role of parent and the student is the child.

One of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I have is to foster a caring relationship with each student,” Shoemaker wrote. “Students must feel I am invested in them as a person before they will respect me and trust what I am trying to teach them.”

She finds hands-on, practical applications of class material is the most effective way to teach, so her classes incorporate learning activities. Many times, she looks for a product to complete. For example, students recently completed a children's story books, which they wrote and illustrated.

"They do a really good job with them," she said. "Some of the strategies I feel are most effective for all students are hands-on, practical application and student-centered instruction...I have found that, because of the hands-on, product-based approach to teaching, my students are able to take their newly acquired skills and apply them to the world outside of the school building."

Shoemaker has also worked with Roane State Community College to offer the Teaching as a Profession class, a dual credit course, that allows students considering a career in teaching to "test the water." This course includes working with Martin Elementary, giving students experience in real classrooms.

It might seem a strange class for someone who once wanted nothing to do with the education field, but her administrators think she's a perfect candidate.

"Ms. Shoemaker is one of those teachers I can honestly say was 'born to teach,'" wrote Janet Graham, supervisor of instruction K-12, in a letter of recommendation. "As a true professional, Ms. Shoemaker is a dedicated team player, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. She offers suggestions and assistance to her colleagues by providing professional development within the Career and Technical Education department...She models best practices daily through the lessons she prepares and provides lessons with active engagement experiences."

While Shoemaker is very active in school organizations, coaching cross country and helping with the school's Relay for Life team, one of her primary activities is as advisor to the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) student organization.

Last week, she accompanied a group of students to Nashville for the annual state convention. Many students were prepared to compete at the state level with their projects, while another student was seeking the office of state president.  She has helped to mentor these students in the club setting and also in class.

Teaching is a privilege,” Shoemaker said. “And when a student is successful, there is no better reward than to know you made an impact in a child's life.”

Shoemaker is married to Jeremy and the couple have two children, Lyla, 3, and Jake, who will be 2 this month.

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