Eliot-Hine Middle School, 6th, 7th and 8th grades, Teacher for 22 years
Sharon Culbreath, Eliot-Hine Middle School, 6th, 7th and 8th grades | Photo by Jason Colston
Why did you become a teacher?
I was inspired by teachers who, along with others, impacted my life and shared their passion for life with me. They inspired me to reach beyond my horizons with high expectations.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher was my minister, Reverend Wilson W. Lee. He cultivated ideals for the needs of young people to help them grow and develop. He modeled and taught us what good character should be and look like. His enthusiasm for giving and cultivating young minds was never ending. He was one of those pastors or ministers who just looked at us and taught us. He always had time to listen. He valued each of us and treated every one of us fairly, recognizing how we were unique. He just never turned anyone down, or away. As a special education teacher, I often hear people say that that my students really can’t learn. Yes they can. Reverend Lee never said cannot. “Never say can’t,” he said. I will never turn down a child because of him.
Three adjectives that describe your job:
Challenging, rewarding, engaging.
What is one thing that you wish someone had told you when you were a first year teacher?
I wish someone had told me that as a teacher you wear so many hats. You become a communicator, a disciplinarian, an evaluator, classroom manager, counselor, a member of teams and groups, a role model, decision maker and even a surrogate parent. I wish someone had told me that in my first year!
What's one thing your students have taught you about being a better teacher?
They have taught me the dynamics of human behavior and how to think outside the box. In class we were talking about the word “trespassing” and talking about people putting up signs so that no one would trespass. One of my students came out and said “Ms. Culbreath that would not work. In our neighborhood people wouldn’t follow the rules.”
For me, it made me think I have to just be more aware of what happens in their neighborhoods versus what happens here. The expectation in school is different, and I had to understand that in my teaching, in meeting their needs so they could achieve.
Answer one or the other:
Tell a little about a time when a student's accomplishments completely exceeded your expectations. Or, tell a little about a time when you were inspired by a student.
A class of my special needs students had been diagnosed as ADHD, but they weren’t taking any meds. This year was my first year working with Read 180, a reading intervention program designed to reach students who are below proficient. My students who were ADHD increased their reading scores by one year. As a whole 13 of the 14 students made gains.
That accomplishment was big, because without medication they were all over the place, and I had to come up with different strategies to work with that. With the intervention we use, Read 180, you have to do whole group instruction as part of a larger rotation including small group instruction and use of the software. The whole group instruction was hard with this group, and I had to try something entirely different to get them focused.
For me, I didn’t expect as much growth when it was so hard for them to concentrate and focus and their attention spans were quite short. But when I saw their progress I was jumping up and down for joy.
Why is teaching an incredibly important job?
Because we wear so many hats! I think it is incredibly important because through daily interactions with students, we are one of the key agents who unlocks the door to knowledge and inspires the love of learning that all young people need in order to lead fulfilling lives as future citizens of our society. Nothing can be more important than that relationship which can transform a young person without hope and motivation into a learner. As teachers we can make that happen.
We can light the candle for young people including those who may be troubled and may be finding life a struggle. This goes back to the previous question. Having those kids at the beginning of the year, I had to sit down and figure out what it was I was going to do to get them to meet me halfway.
I asked the assistant principal to observe, and the social worker to collaborate on strategies to use to get the kids to focus and work. Without their medicine, with 14 students in the room, this was not easy.
I also help them with their behavior, and ask my students to use me as an example. They would have problems with other students, and I would show them how to model this. From their reading to their behavior, this wearing of many hats is what will give my kids what they need in future years.
Read more teacher profiles »