Behind the Apple — Traci Shirley, Gregg Middle School

  • Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A.M. Sheehan/Journal Scene Traci Shirley (and King Tutankhamun)

Storytelling is the tool 43-year-old Traci Shirley of Summerville used to teach sixth graders world history.

“I teach through story-telling and leave them [students] with cliff hangers every day!”

A graduate of Summerville High School, Shirley earned her BS in Elementary Education between Anderson College and the College of Charleston.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “My grandmother was a teacher and all my summer jobs were babysitting. My mother is a nurse and I knew I did not want to go into the medical field.”

Shirley did her student teaching at Rollings Elementary School – fourth grade. “I knew I wanted elementary and I was hired at Rollings for two years as a “pull out.” A pull out, she explains, is a teacher who pulls children out of class to give academic assistance. “But I always wanted my own classroom.”

“This was the ‘90s and it was hard to get a job. Sam Clark, principal of Alston Middle School, called me a week before school started and offered me a sixth grade position. I didn’t know if I could do middle school…I had just seen Dangerous Minds!”

But she figured she would give it a try and she fell in love, she says.

“They had my heart…I realized I would never go back to elementary.”

She was at Alston just a year when Gregg opened as a middle school, so she went to Gregg to help open the school.

She is in her 17th year at Gregg and 18th year as a middle school teacher.

“I love it.”

You do, she says, have to have a sense of humor and understand a middle school sense of humor. “I have never looked back,” she says, “I have found my calling.”

Shirley has taught everything except science but social studies is her love.

In addition to teaching she and another teacher oversee the Social Studies Quest tri-county competition at Trident Technical College, is in charge of the Mustang Minutes committee, has been a team leader and a mentor in past years. She was Teacher of the Year at Gregg in 2003/04.

Her worst experience, she says, is knowing the stories of what goes on at [a student’s] home. “It makes what’s happening in the classroom pale in comparison.”

Her best experiences are the great things that happen in the classroom every day -- and the students who come back, the ones who keep in touch, long after they have left her nest.

“Sometimes they come here, sometimes it’s through social media…I have one student who is in the Air Force who keeps in touch.”

And then there was a student for whom she was his homebound teacher for a while. A week after the student graduated from high school he had his mom bring him to Shirley’s classroom “so he could tell me he is going to college.”

Professionally she plans to continue to strive to do her best and learn something every day from her students, from research…to not stay static but continue to always learn.

At home, she and her husband Michael, are parents to Ashton, 9.

“We love to go to our beach house on Folly Beach,” she says, “and we are huge football fans – SHS and Clemson – and we go to lots of games.”

When not spending time with her family, she loves to read. It is her quiet time she says.

She enjoys playing games, shopping and likes to bake. Her biggest enjoyment, though, and what she and her family do most, is spend time with family and friends.

“My parents live next door and we have a lot of family and friends.”

Her life goal, she says, is to remain positive in all things.

Sometimes we need to step back and see what we have, not what we don’t have, she explains.

And one of the things Shirley has is an overwhelming love of teaching.

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