The impact that University of the Ozarks senior Shelby Carlton made on her students during her teaching internship at Lamar Elementary School this past year was quite obvious on her final day in the class.
As Carlton was about to leave Beth Mayes’ second-grade classroom for the final time, she was quickly enveloped by a large number of children in a farewell group hug. It was a moving culmination of a rewarding and educational year-long internship for the elementary education major from Clarksville who graduate with honors in May.
While most teacher education programs require just one semester in the classroom for education majors, the Pat Walker Teacher Education program at Ozarks requires a full year, something that Carlton believes makes a big difference in preparing future teachers.
“Being in the classroom all year long has been so helpful to me,” Carlton said. “I was able to see how crazy a first day of school can be, but I also got the chance to really bond with and get to know my students and fellow teachers. When it came time for me to begin teaching full-time, my students were used to me and respected me, and that allowed them to be receptive and able to learn from me. I know that this is an opportunity that not many have, and I feel like I was able to learn so much more from a full year in the same classroom rather than having only one semester.”
Carlton said she first got interested in teaching when she was in high school and visited her mother, who was working at a local elementary school.
“As soon as I walked into the building, I fell in love,” she said. “I saw teachers who were passionate about teaching and I saw students who were genuinely excited to learn, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.”
The teaching internship reaffirmed her decision to go into teaching.
“I remember sitting back one day and just watching my students read and work quietly. The classroom was peaceful, I had soft music playing, and I took a moment to soak in the learning environment that my cooperating teacher and I had created,” she said. “I realized in that moment that I genuinely love what I do, even all of the difficult parts. I love my students, I love seeing them grasp a concept, I love lesson planning, and I even love staying late to make sure everything ends up just right. I knew then that I am where I am supposed to be and I am doing what God has called me to do.”
Carlton said the biggest lesson she learned during her internship was the importance of patience.
“It took time for me to realize that every student is different and all of the students are not going to immediately understand everything that I teach them,” she said. “I learned how important it is to show patience and kindness to the students. It really helps them to learn when they know that you are on their side and are willing to help them.”
Carlton also said she learned that teaching is often a balancing act.
“I always joke that teachers have a million tabs open in their brains, and we can’t figure out which one is playing music,” she said. “Lesson planning, attending meetings, recording grades, actually teaching, assessing students, and working one-on-one with students are only a small part of the balance that I had to tackle. It was difficult, but I was able to find the balance. The most rewarding aspect was teaching full-time successfully and seeing my students learn from me. I was nervous about teaching everything, but before I knew it, I did it, and then it was over.”
Carlton credited her coordinating teacher, Mayes, on helping her throughout the internship.
“I cannot say enough about my Mrs. Mayes,” Carlton said. “I believe that we were placed together for a reason, and I truly have a lifelong friend in her and all of the other teachers that I met at Lamar Elementary. She answered my questions and was a true guide and light throughout the whole process. We worked so well together, and I wish that I could take her with me.”
Even before graduating from Ozarks, Carlton had secured a position as a fourth-grade teacher at Clarksville Elementary School, even though she did not feel good about her initial interview.
“My family is from Clarksville, so I really wanted this job,” Carlton said. “The day before my interview, my brother’s house burned to the ground. While everyone was safe, their possessions were not, and I spent the entire day helping to rescue what we could from the house. Going into the interview, I felt underprepared. I completed the interview with peace and confidence that was God-sent, and the next day I received a call that the position was mine if I wanted it. This happened in early March, so I have been extremely blessed and grateful to have had a position so early on. I am so excited to be teaching at my alma mater.”
Carlton praised the University’s education professors for helping prepare her for a career in the classroom.
“The education department here at Ozarks is amazing,” she said. “They have been more than willing to drop everything and answer my questions, and they make themselves available for guidance at any time. Ms. Pam Terry gave us real-life application skills and practice, Dr. Doris Metz ingrained the lesson and unit planning process in our minds, Dr. Allison Freed taught us how to manage our classrooms, Dr. Javier Taylor taught us how to teach in a way that allows students to understand deeply, and Dr. Brett Stone was the support system behind it all. Although I sometimes complained about all of the work, it was so beneficial to me in the long run. I feel almost over-prepared for my first teaching job.”