Mill Valley gifted teacher nominated for award
Carmen Shelly is a strong believer that what is good for gifted students is good for every student.
"Take a class of 30 students," she said. "There are individuals in there and we have to find those ways to reach individual students."
Shelly is the gifted services facilitator at Mill Valley High School and is the De Soto USD 232 candidate for Kansas Teacher of the Year in secondary education.
Although she teaches at Mill Valley, she is no stranger to De Soto. She started teaching in the district in 1984 -- before Mill Valley ever was built.
Shelly grew up in a small town in Nebraska where she felt she had few options when it came to career choices.
"It seemed like the only options for gainful employment for a woman were secretary, nurse, teacher or farmer's wife," she said.
So she chose to become a teacher, partially because of the limited options she saw available and partially because he family's influence.
Her grandfathers both were superintendents of the school system Shelly graduated from, her dad was on the school board for several years and her mom and sister both were teachers.
After high school Shelly headed off to Bethel College in Newton, Kan., where she graduated in 1983 with a degree in English, speech and drama and an education certificate.
She was a student teacher in fall 1983 and was hired by the De Soto School District for her first job of her career in fall 1984 as the English and drama teacher at De Soto High School when it was located in the building that now houses Lexington Trails Middle School.
As Shelly's family started to grow, it proved difficult to manage her activities as the drama teacher and coach debate and forensics.
"I was spending way too much time at school and not enough time with my family," Shelly said. "By the time I decided I wanted to do gifted, my son hand been identified as gifted in the Shawnee Mission School District. I learned the kind of things he'd do and I thought 'I could do that.'"
So in 1999 Shelly earned her provisional certificate to teach gifted students. She started out working with eighth-graders at Monticello Trails Junior High School and later moved to Mill Valley.
She furthered her education with a master's degree from Kansas University in 2002.
Now Shelly works with her gifted students by developing an Individual Education Program for each student and by offering what a pullout program.
Students are able to schedule a time during their week to leave their regular class and attend a session with Shelly. It is not required, but it allows the gifted students a chance to do something that challenges them, she said.
"I give them a place to come where they can talk to others who think like they do," Shelly said. "Plus in some respects my office is a very safe place for them. I offer them Play-Doh and last year I put up party lights in the room. It's amazing what comes out of their mouths when their hands are busy with Play-Doh.
"If they can just play for a little bit then all of a sudden the 'Ahah' moments come."
Shelly offers Socratic Seminars where students are questioned in the way that the philosopher Socrates might have done in order to better realize what they think.
"It forces students to formulate ideas on their own, put them out there for the group to discuss and based on that they may revise their thinking," she said. "It's not like a debate. You don't want to come to a right answer. It's just a general questioning session to find out what other people are thinking about the general topics that are presented that day."
Shelly said the attention to individual students and activities like the Socratic Seminar could be brought into other classrooms as well.
"That's something that I continue to have to advocate for with teachers and other students," she said. "Each students should have their needs met."
Although she has now worked in the district for 23 years, Shelly said she isn't going anywhere.
"I like where I am, I like what I do, I like the people I work with," Shelly said. "At least for the time I'll stay put."