Spotlight: 10 Questions for Shannon Hill (WY '17)March 5, 2018
Physical education and health teacher Shannon Hill (WY ‘17) takes students hiking, biking, snowshoeing and camping to instill a lasting love for the outdoors: “I hope they take these experiences with them and remember to be comfortable in their own skins.” She won Wyoming’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award at Thermopolis Middle School on January 5, 2018.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Shannon Hill: I was in complete shock and it took a minute for it to sink in that my name was even called! I couldn't stop asking, "Why me?" I work in a wonderful school with so many amazing educators who make me a better teacher, and I just couldn't figure out why they chose me. But then I realized that what I am doing is making a difference, and I was the one that gets to represent all of us here at Thermopolis Middle School.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Shannon: My students were genuinely excited for me. A few students wrote me little notes afterwards telling me how much they appreciate what I do. That means just as much to me, if not more, than the $25,000. My passion shows through in everything I do for our Physical Education and Health program, and my students can see that if you have a goal or a dream and are passionate about it, then you can achieve great things. A lot of times PE gets overlooked in school districts, but not in ours. I hope my students gain the confidence to go against the norm and do it with passion. Because when you do, even "just the PE teachers" get recognized.
3. How did you end up in education?
Shannon: I transferred to the University of Montana from Western Montana College, finished playing college volleyball, and switched majors from Education to Exercise Science. While attending school, I was married and had a child. Before I could graduate I became a single mom and was working two jobs at the YMCA while coaching high school volleyball. I finished my degree and graduated in 2009.
This switch in my personal life made me rethink my career choice. I was working with children all day. Not only was I learning about the children I worked with, but I was also learning how to be a mom, and it was the most wonderful experience I've ever had. My love for those jobs and for my own child inspired me to go back to school to become a health and PE teacher.
My mom was a teacher and I was always in awe of her and the impact she made on all her students’ lives. The athletic director at my former high school sat down with me and helped me with my career path. I got a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Health and PE in 2012 and got my first job here in Thermopolis.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Shannon: My mom is my biggest role model. She was an amazing elementary school teacher and has overcome so many obstacles throughout her life, while always excelling in her career and striving to reach her goals. It wasn’t any specific advice that she has given me—it’s that she lives her advice day in and day out, constantly reminding me through example. She has shown me how to relate to people and children. She has shown me how to turn towards adversity and come at it head-on. Most importantly, she has shown me what it means to never give up on your goals and what can come of that perseverance. My mom has touched so many lives and has left lasting impressions on anyone who crosses her path. I wanted to be as passionate about my career as my mom was, and I want to have a positive impact on anyone who comes into my life, just as she has.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Shannon: I think I've blocked the beginning of my first year of teaching. I was a brand new head varsity volleyball coach, in a brand new town, in a brand new job, teaching a brand new curriculum while sending my five-year-old to kindergarten. It was overwhelming, exhausting, and an emotional rollercoaster. But what I remember most is that every time I walked into our school's commons area and saw my students’ faces, I smiled. And every day when I was running from the middle school to the high school for practice, I thought, “I have the best job in the world.”
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Shannon: I hope my students remember the authentic experiences they have had in my class: hiking up Roundtop or Monument Hill, riding bikes to the grocery store, snowshoeing in the Bighorn Mountains, shooting 3-D archery, and camping! I hope my students take these experiences with them and remember to be comfortable in their own skins while loving the outdoors.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Shannon: Having to constantly defend what we do as educators, not to our students, but to everyone else. This goes for all educators, not just health and PE. With the growth of online schooling and the introduction of Common Core, teachers are constantly having to defend what we do in the classroom as genuine and irreplaceable. Educators have the most important job when it comes to our youth and we are under constant scrutiny from communities, stakeholders, and the government.
On top of being under a microscope, teachers are constantly defending why our budgets shouldn’t continue to be cut and why our programs shouldn’t be cut and why our class sizes should be smaller. Our children are our future. Without quality education, our children could grow up not knowing their full potential, or not understanding how or why to make healthy choices.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Shannon: It’s more than I could have imagined for myself and my family. My first thought: How can I give back to my program? I have set aside some money for fitness trackers for my classes so students can see their progress throughout our different activities.
No one chooses education because of the paycheck—we choose this career because we love making a difference. With our growing economy and raising a family, money can become a very negative distraction. I have chosen to use the Award money to help my family get in a place financially where we are not constantly worried about our growing responsibilities at home.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Shannon: I would tell that student that teaching is one of the most rewarding career paths that someone can choose, but you have to be motivated, focused, and open-minded. Teachers pour their hearts and souls into what they do, so you have to be ready to do the work. I would encourage that student to get into a job-shadowing program and shadow multiple teachers so they get a true glimpse into the classroom and how different classrooms are managed. Then I would encourage them to slowly take on leadership tasks at the teacher's discretion and practice running different activities to get a feel for the teacher's role and see if they enjoy it.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Shannon: Reaching a goal not just with hard work and dedication, but by making mistakes, learning from them and trying again. If you meet your goal easily, you’re not feeling true success. When achieving your goal involves sweat, grit and perseverance, that’s success.
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