Rodney Shelton was recently named Teacher of the year in the Sumter County Schools. A teacher of business and computer science as well as engineering and technology at Sumter Middle School, “Coach” is also known for his success on the playing field. As head football coach at Americus Sumter County Middle School, his teams won championships in 2007, 2010, 2011 & 2013. He is also a successful coach of Sumter County Middle School Basketball and the combined middle school golf program.
Mr. Shelton described himself as a true Americus person: raised in Americus, attending public schools here where he graduated with honors from Americus High School before graduating from Georgia Southwestern State University with a degree in in business and human resource management. He has been teaching at Sumter Middle School for sixteen years.
The youngest of nine children whose parents worked at Textron and at the Manhattan Shirt Factory, his story shows how perseverance, a desire to learn and a desire to excel can take a person wherever they want to go.
Just a few positive influences can go a long way in shaping the life’s direction of a young mind. This was particularly true in the case of Mr. Shelton.
At age three, his great grandmother, who couldn’t read, instilled in him the importance of learning:
“She would make me read the newspaper to her while she babysat for me each day,” he said. “She died when I was three but I still remember many of the things she taught me.”
His older sister, Bettye, was in college before he went to kindergarten. By taking him to observe and be a part of her college classes, she made it a point to develop in her youngest brother a respect for learning and an intellectual curiosity.
“Then, when I was in school, over the summers she taught me the things I needed to know for the next year,” Mr. Shelton said. “She always wanted me to be ahead.”
He remembered the role of public television shows like “The Electric Company” where he first learned to spell and to read.
“If you can read well, it makes everything that much easier,” he said. “If you can’t read well, it makes everything more difficult.”
A LIFETIME OF LEARNING
Once the desire to learn had taken root at a young age, it continued to play out over a lifetime. In an age before the internet, Mr. Shelton remembered growing up with a set of 1968 World Book Encyclopedias always opened, always used.
“I’d go to sleep reading encyclopedias,” he said. “If something happened at school that triggered a question in me, I found the answer in those books.”
He graduated with a degree in business and worked as a manager of a Pizza Hut before realizing that his true passion would be in front of a classroom. In making the transition through the Georgia Teacher Alternate Preparation program, he relied heavily on the experience and insight of educators at Sumter Middle School such as Sandra Dantes, Stacey Favors, Mae Bell Thomas and Carolyn Hamilton. His sister, Coach Shelton, was also a great influence on him as both a teacher and coach.
“Not being an education major, I needed additional support especially in areas such as classroom management,” Mr. Shelton said. “It became much easier for me to manage a class because I got to watch those people. I saw through them how important it was to build positive relationships with students. Children don't care what you know, until they know you care. "
Even after sixteen years as a teacher, Mr. Shelton says he still has to continually learn new things and adapt to the ever-changing world of education.
“Every time you feel as a teacher you’re on top of your game and everything is in line, something happens to change it,” he said. “Change is a constant in education. As a teacher you have to adapt or become extinct.”
THE JOY OF WORK
Like most successful people, Mr. Shelton finds great joy and satisfaction in the work he does. Teaching middle school students provides its own unique challenges:
“The middle school kids need to understand things that they don’t know they need to understand,” Mr. Shelton said. “People know what they want when they come into a store or a restaurant. But children don’t know what they want when they come into school. As a teacher, you often have to motivate the ‘want’ to learn."
“Teachers are most effective when they engage students in such a way that they learn and don’t realize they are learning,” he continued
As a coach and as a teacher, his measure of satisfaction is the success of the students he has helped along life’s journey.
“Anytime I come in contact with a student I taught, I always want to find out how they are doing,” he said. “When they seem to be doing well, it is always rewarding. When I read about former students who graduated from college, it is always brings me a certain level of joy.”
LESSONS FOR SUCCESS: QUOTES FROM COACH SHELTON
“Set goals. Then you have to be persistent in order to obtain those goals. When things don’t go as well as you planed you figure out a way to make it better next time. You’ll never be a success if you don’t try or if you quit.”
“If you shoot to pass and you come up short, then you fail. But if you shoot for the best and you come up short, you’re still better than most.”