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MCSD Names Teacher of the Year

Marion, SC, November 10, 2020– One of Marion County’s own received the school district’s highest honor.  Rhonda Shelley, a 1990 graduate of Marion High School and currently a Kindergarten teacher at Easterling Primary School was recently named Marion County School District’s 2020 Teacher of the Year. Upon graduating from Francis Marion University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education, Shelley returned to Marion in the fall of 1996 and immediately went to work.  Starting as a long term substitute at Easterling Primary School, Shelley soon found herself signing a contract to teach 3rd grade at Marion Intermediate.  The following year she returned to Easterling to teach 1st grade for a year before landing in Kindergarten where she has been for the last twenty-two years.  Rhonda Shelley can trace her interest in teaching back to her mother. “My mother, Francis Flowers, was one of the most loving and caring women I have ever known,” claimed Shelley.  The owner of a private daycare, Francis Flowers had an assistant in her daughter who would help read to the daycare babies, supervise outdoor playtime, assist with lunch and oversee naptime.  She also helped her mother teach letters, numbers, and shapes and sing nursery rhymes to their young charges.  Shelley also credits a former elementary teacher, Mrs. Gwen Gore, for her decision to enter the teaching field.  Gore was a science teacher at Marion Elementary who apparently didn’t use a traditional model of teaching in her classroom. She was instead very engaged with her students showing excitement to see them with high fives and hugs.  Candy was tossed to students who answered questions correctly and she was always very visible.  Gore created a classroom that was fun, safe and she made every student feel smart. “It was then that I knew my calling,” stated Shelley. “I wanted to be that kind of teacher for future students.” And that is just what she is doing with her Kindergarten students.

The positive impact on her students lasts for years as evidenced by the many notes she receives, messages she gets on Facebook and the number of high school seniors who are in the Teacher Cadet program who beg to do their internship in her classroom. She knows that she has become that teacher that has a lasting impact on her students.

But the classroom isn’t the only place you will see Rhonda Shelley. Community involvement has always been very important to her.  Over the years she has volunteered with multiple organizations keeping the community clean, working with the elderly, coaching cheerleaders, organizing equipment for ball teams, working the concession stands, being a scout leader and volunteering for Relay for Life.  Within her school, Shelley continues to work extra hours to mentor new teachers, take student teachers under her wing, organize community readers and facilitate a new program where Kindergarten teacher mentor second-grade students and give them jobs as a reward for making good choices.

But what it all boils down to for Rhonda Shelley is how the child feels about their teacher. “Being a great teacher does not mean you’re the smartest, most creative or most well-known teacher in your school or community,” she said. “All of these things mean nothing if you do not have relationships with your students.” Shelley believes that how a child feels about their teacher is key to a child who will do everything to behave and learn in the classroom. She learned this important lesson first hand when she taught third grade by creating a special relationship with a troubled student, she was able to provide the basic needs and guidance that eased the anger in his life.  That special bond remained for many years even when she transferred to another school.  She believes that you teach with love.  Every student has a story and teachers cannot assume that just because a child is acting out that they are trying to be mean, instead, they need to try to understand the why.

Rhonda Shelley sees troubled students on the rise in classrooms due to a plethora of problems including poverty, abusive home situations, and a lack of strong positive role models.  But she also sees students rising above their problems and developing a bright future for themselves that will lead to a better life for them and their families which is why all students deserve an equal and safe education in Marion County.

“You could not find a more child-centred educator as Mrs. Shelley,” commented Easterling Primary School Principal Mykea Jordan. “Her walk matches her talk.” Jordan expounds on the relationships she builds with her students that lasts for years as evident by the number of students who return to see her.  Jordan goes on to say the relationship building isn’t with just students but also with parents and staff.  “She is always willing to do what it takes to help our school and our students succeed.”

"We are honored to have such a compassionate and dedicated teacher to serve as our ambassador to promote teaching in Marion County. Mrs. Shelley's love for her students and the teaching profession is evident from the moment that you enter her classroom! “Stated Superintendent, Dr. Kandace Bethea.