Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of Q&As with the eight teachers who have been chosen by Athens City Schools as teachers of the year. Future installments will tentatively appear in Saturday and Wednesday editions of The News Courier.
Name: Shane Leopard
School: Athens Intermediate School
Grade Level(s) You Teach: I currently teach fifth grade. I taught first grade for 12 years.
Subject(s) or Special(s) You Teach: English language arts and social studies
Degrees & Granting Institutions: AA Certificate in Elementary Education, Alabama A&M University, 1994. Master’s Degree in Elementary Education, Alabama A&M University, 1992. Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Athens State College, 1990.
Special Certifications and/or Training: Trained in AVID Strategies, trained in Project-Based Learning, trained in OGAP Additive Reasoning, trained in Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Strategies, trained in AMSTI math and science first grade modules, trained in Leader in Me principles
Where is your hometown? Elkmont
Why did you become a teacher? Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a teacher. My aunt was an elementary teacher, and she would give me her old teacher's manuals. I thought using those to play school was one of the most amazing things ever. I loved reading and learning, and I wanted an opportunity to instill that love in others. I also had so many amazing teachers at Elkmont that I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to show others all of the doors of opportunity that are opened when you have the ability and desire to learn. Now, I am living my dream. I get to be with students, read with them, have fun with them, sing with them, continue to learn with them every day and show them how to learn. What a wonderful way to spend each day.
How many years have you been a teacher? This is my 14th year as a teacher.
How many years have you been with Athens City Schools? This is my 14th year to teach with Athens City Schools.
The best part of my day is: The best part of my day is right after the bell rings. I begin each day with two lessons that impact my students’ ability to communicate clearly. As soon as morning announcements are made, I dress in a pink cape and mask and transform into a character known as Grammar Girl. I begin singing a song I wrote to the tune of “The Spiderman Theme.” The students tap along on their desks as they become “detectives” who help Grammar Girl solve a “crime.” The “crime” is that the writer has made so many errors that his communication does not sound “sophisticated and educated.” I give them a target number of errors in the “crime scene” and set a timer as they quickly try to find as many as they can. When the timer goes off, my students rapidly respond as we correct the errors together. When Grammar Girl exits the scene, I change into a green cape and mask as I transform into MAV (Master of Academic Vocabulary). We sing another song I wrote called “Words of the Week” (“The Addams Family” tune). The students drum along as we become “masters” of new vocabulary words that will help them communicate in a more “sophisticated and educated” way. This is a wonderful way to start each day.
Who has been your greatest source of inspiration? According to Dr. Haim Ginott, author of “Teacher and Child,” a teacher can choose to be an “instrument of inspiration.” I was inspired by many amazing educators, but I was most significantly impacted by Mrs. Dawn Harper, my third grade teacher. Mrs. Harper was definitely an “instrument of inspiration” who was energetic, upbeat and positive. Today, I try to be an “instrument of inspiration” in my own classroom. I try to be energetic, upbeat and positive just as Mrs. Harper was all of those years ago. In fact, I still sing some of the same songs with my students today that Mrs. Harper used in her classroom.
I hope to inspire my students by: Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” It is my desire as a teacher to inspire and “awaken” my students by showing them all of the wonderful things waiting to be learned and discovered. I believe creating characters and having fun with my students helps me “awaken” and engage all of my learners on a daily basis.
What advice would you like to share with new teachers? I would share with new teachers how important it is to think of ways to "unleash the potential" in their students. I would tell new teachers to have fun with their students, to be upbeat, to be energetic. I would tell them to be honest and tell their students when they have made mistakes. I would tell new teachers to apologize quickly when necessary. I would tell new teachers to share what they love with their students, to get to know their students, to take some time just to talk with their students. I would tell new teachers that on challenging days, we must remember that we have the amazing opportunity to encourage young people to “climb mountains,” dream dreams and pursue those dreams even when insurmountable obstacles appear.
What is your greatest hope for your students? According to Socrates, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” This thought expressed so long ago is the way I feel about my role as a teacher. I don’t believe that my primary role is to “fill the vessel.” It is my responsibility to “light the flame.” In order to do this, I show enthusiasm toward learning myself. I try to “kindle the flame” within my students every day. I show them how excited I am about learning something new, and I celebrate their learning and accomplishments with them. There is no way that I can “fill” my students with all of the knowledge they need to succeed when they become adults, but I can inspire them to keep learning themselves. Thus, my greatest hope for my students is that I will "kindle the flame" that inspires them to love learning.
Are you married? I have been married for 30 years to my high school sweetheart Larry Leopard. We have two children. Our daughter Emily Leopard Harris is a chemistry teacher at James Clemens High School and is married to Will Harris. My son Chandler Leopard is an engineering major at Auburn University.
What are your hobbies, interests or other things you like to do as an individual or as a family? I spend most of my extra time working on lessons and materials for my students and classroom. I have always enjoyed working on school things and consider my favorite hobby to be anything associated with teaching. I also enjoy preparing Bible lessons for a Ladies' Bible Class that I teach at Hays Mill Church of Christ. I enjoy eating out with my family, shopping and going to Auburn basketball games.
Favorite Quote: “Life is a song — sing it. Life is a game — play it. Life is a challenge — meet it. Life is a dream — realize it. Life is a sacrifice — offer it. Life is love — enjoy it.” — Sai Baba
For what are you most grateful? I am most grateful for my family and the relationships God has allowed me to enjoy while living on this earth. I am thankful for my parents who tried to provide unlimited opportunities for me to learn new things. I am also thankful for all of the experiences that I have had as an educator and for all of the students I have been able to spend time with through the years. I truly believe that God places students in my classroom, because they need me and I need them. Before I leave for school each day, I pray that I will be a blessing to the students who have been placed in my care.