Mrs. Shaun Denton in one word – EDIFY! With a talent and a calling for building others up, see what makes the Mother of Hardin Valley Middle School so special.
Adam: Where were you born?
Shaun: South Knoxville, Tennessee.
Adam: What was your middle school mascot?
Shaun: A pioneer at Doyle Middle School.
Adam: What college did you go to?
Shaun: I went to Pellissippi and UT at the same time in tandem. I wanted to be a physical therapist and I was trying to get my hours in quickly so I could go to PT school. I applied to UTC and at the time, and it was so hard to get a spot. They had thousands apply, then interviewed 500 and only accepted 32. Then, I applied to Memphis and got in out of 8000 applicants. A month or two before school began I was pulled in a different direction. I wasn’t liking what I was doing at the physical therapy clinic at the time so I started second guessing things. I ended up going back to UT, and Carson Newman sent me a letter wanting me to attend school with them. I took that offer, went to school for free and got my bachelors in biology. I was a TA in the biology department, I loved it. Sharon Teets was the educator and she suggested I try teaching. I thought “heck no. I’m not a teacher”. I had a spot at the end of my semester for it, so I tried it and it was surreal! I started at Halls High and then went to Gresham Middle and was working with Trina Rodner. One day, I was setting up the big TV on the cart and it just hit me. God came over me and I knew that’s what I needed to do. I started crying and the kids started filing in. I had to pull myself together and I kept saying “I’m a teacher. I’m supposed to be a teacher”. The kids said, “Good, because you’re teaching us today”. Haha! The rest is history.
Adam: How many years have you now taught?
Shaun: I started in 2000, but took a hiatus when I had my first son. I was teaching at South Doyle Middle at the time. I started doing homebound and had my second kid. I ended up doing homebound for about 6 years. I learned a lot from that and it’s shaped how I am as a teacher today. I get that my students have other things going on, not just academically. Being a mom too, has played a huge role in how I treat my students. I’ve learned how to encourage their strengths and their confidence to help them learn more easily.
Adam: What clubs do you sponsor? What sports do you coach?
Shaun: I do help coach basketball. We have a game today. Go Hawks! I also do FCA.
Adam: What subjects are you teaching this year?
Shaun: I teach physical science which is a high school credit. So my kids are on a path already in eighth grade to earn credits toward their high school diploma. They do have to be in algebra too. I developed a huge love for math during homebound teaching. I love seeing it click with students. I love seeing that concrete evidence as to why things are the way they are. I’m teaching you this theory or concept for a reason. It’s not something someone made up. Through repetition, we scientifically experiment it and then we have math to back it up. I can do it. You can do it. We can all replicate it.
Adam: What’s your funniest teaching story?
Shaun: Most that come to mind are about me being gullible. But, here’s a good one! I was teaching gravity and I had hall duty. I went ahead and started my class video and then I had to go out and do my hall duty. Something happened and I was late getting back in here. I’m running through the room and my kids are on the video waiting for me. I get ready to go and I go to sit down, completely missing my chair. I just fall to the ground and the kids are like, “Miss Denton, are you okay? Are you okay?” I pop up and say, “I’m okay. But that is evidence of gravity.” I love my kids and I’m glad we can have laughing moments like that together.
Adam: What about your most heartwarming teaching story?
Shaun: We do like a fun connection at the end of the year where I have my students write their end of the year goals on a note and we launch them on a new path to their future with airplanes. Cleaning up, I found this really special letter from a female student. I preach the word “Edify” all year long and she chose to write this at the top of her goal sheet. She went on to say:
“I never thought that I would be the person I’ve become today, but people change. And I don’t think that I would ever be able to thank all the people that have gotten me to where I am today. But thank you, Ms. Denton. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for seeing that I can. You taught me some very valuable things. Thank you for pushing me. You saw that light in me could be brought out. I’ve grown and I became better because of you. I now believe that I can, and I will be changed for the better. I will not forget what you’ve done for me. I love you and I can’t thank you enough. You became the person I wanna become. I may not have a goal, but I know wherever I am, you have helped me get there. You became a big part of my journey. Thank you. I hope this note finds you.”
Well, the fact that I found it is remarkable because I had 200 something kids launching their airplanes.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Shaun: I’d be a mom and dipping corn dogs in the summer! (Eat at Dentons!)
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Shaun: I had a bunch of teachers that I loved. My elementary teacher would be Ms. Terry Johnson. I loved her. She actually found me on Facebook, which was kind of cool. From middle school, it would definitely be Miss Petran. Nobody liked her because she was hard. But I felt like when I left her, I knew my stuff and I felt like she really made a difference. She was a great science teacher and she affected who I am today.
Adam: Which educator at Hardin Valley Middle have you learned the most from? Shaun: Definitely Amy Yander. She is a veteran teacher and I go to her with everything. I even go to her when I’m stressed out. She knows how to calm me down and really gets me. She feels like I’m on hyper speed all the time, but she lets me, and I never feel judged. It was an adjustment coming back to a pool of teachers after being homebound. I didn’t expect to encounter the things I did. Whether I was doing things that some people didn’t agree with, she’d push me to keep going or make changes when needed. Then of course, Cara Cahak, I coach basketball with her and she has made me a better person, just holding me accountable spiritually, being a good mom, and educationally. Then, Mary Anderson downstairs. She’s had all three of my boys. I think she is an amazing educator. I feel like she brings to the table wisdom and patience and a positive vibe that I always want to have.
Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?
Shaun: I was Teacher of the Year my first year here.
Adam: What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
Shaun: Teaching trigonometry doing home bound. I literally stayed up learning the unit circle. Teaching homebound, I had to teach every single high school class. That Geometry class was hard too. I remember learning geometry my first year doing homebound. As I started relearning it, I figured out I loved it. I had forgotten all that stuff. Then, they asked me to teach trig and that was another ball game. Another personal accomplishment is being a mom. Very proud of that.
Adam: What do you wish every parent and student knew?
Shaun: I learned this a long time ago that it takes 10 positives to take away one negative comment. I wish they knew how much I love these kids, because I do. I just want them to leave different and better people. I want them to know that they can do it. And any kind of negative connotation is so hard to take. I love doing this. I love teaching because of the difference I can make on these kids. When I dropped off my kid (freshman in college) this last time, he told me he knew he’d be okay because I trained him to be okay. That’s the goal as a mom. But that’s what I would tell them, that these kids are special people.
Adam: What is the difference between a good and a great teacher?
Shaun: I want to be the kind of teacher that I want my kids to have. I think that sets us apart. If teachers thought about that, then I think they would truly change everything they did. Whether it’s walking by and saying, “You got this. Do you have a question about what you’re working on?”, seeing when they are struggling, when they understand, or when they need a push. Homebound brought that skill set to me and being able to see them straight across the table and see them struggling. They were originally worried about me going from a one on one setting to a classroom of 30. That first year was super hard and I screwed up a lot, but I learned a lot. I’ve learned to combine my skills and evolve in my teaching. Some of these kids have so much pressure on them to do the absolute best. I don’t want to make that worse, I want to help them through it. It’s all about being able to read your students. I want my kids to be taught in a classroom that they feel safe in and that they’re there for a reason.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see in the education system?
Shaun: I think valuing the expertise of teachers and knowing that I know what’s best for my kids. If I have students struggling with a concept, give me wiggle room in the pacing guide. I’m all about the checklist, and it stresses me out to see I’m a week behind when I took extra time on something that was needed. Then, school was canceled all last week, so we’re another week behind. I think there needs to be built in wiggle room. It wouldn’t be wasted. For the most part, we are all professionals and we love our job. I wish they would trust us more.
Adam: What’s something that you could use in your classroom?
Shaun: I am blessed beyond measure. We have a lab that we share among the teachers and we’ve all been blessed. Dry erase markers are always good! We use those every day and some students don’t have any.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Shaun: Basketball of course. I love to walk and run. I love walking my dog. I love being with my family. We just got a camper and I’m really liking that. I didn’t think I would, but I do! I also love plants!
Adam: What’s a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?
Shaun: My gosh, a kid brought me a granola bar today and that was amazing.. It was so good. I also love coffee.
Adam: What makes your school your perfect place?
Shaun: It’s my team. I have the best team ever. They’re very helpful and they get me. When Denton’s burned, they brought me a big basket of things even though I didn’t need anything. They’re so thoughtful. We’ve had admin come and go but overall I feel like they’re amazing to us. They’ve been very gracious, helpful, and they let us do what we feel like we need to do. They trust us, even though I’ve set the fire alarm off and burned a couple microwaves. Haha!
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