Photo of Shelley in an elementary school classroom.

Joseph Shelley

As part of his preparation in 2012 to become a teacher, Joseph Shelley visited a classroom at New Hope Elementary School just outside Chapel Hill to observe a teacher at work. It was a milestone for Shelley – the first time he’d ever stepped into an elementary school classroom.

Shelley, a senior majoring in elementary education, was homeschooled through the elementary grades, middle school and into high school. Now he’s learning to be a teacher, preparing for a career in which he hopes to instill in children his love of learning.

Shelley and his three siblings grew up in Greensboro in an unusual learning environment. His mother taught him one-on-one for the first few grades. They had a constantly changing routine, Shelley said, that included a lot of family field trips. He did a lot of self-teaching, learning by himself through reading.

“I would spend whole days in certain grades with no instruction at all besides books,” Shelley said. “And that helps so much in college, understanding things I learned very deeply.”

In later grades he studied in co-ops with other homeschoolers. During his last few years of high school, Shelley dual-enrolled at Guilford Tech where he got a head start on his college education. In his high school senior year, he lived with his brother in China for two months and learned Chinese.

“Being homeschooled made it possible for me to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to do in public or private school,” he said.

Shelley, who grew up watching Carolina games with his family, decided to attend Carolina, following in his father’s and older brother’s footsteps.

“A lot of the people I looked up to had come here, and so I knew what a good university it was,” he said.

Discovering a love of teaching

However, Shelley didn’t know until his sophomore year that he wanted to be a teacher.

“I knew that this was a good place to try stuff out and see what I love, which ended up being teaching,” he said.

Shelley liked the idea of teaching elementary school because he would get to teach the many subjects that he enjoys without specializing in just one area.

“I have never enjoyed becoming great at anything. I have always just wanted to be able to do everything enough to enjoy it.”

Shelley said that the subjects he loved the most growing up were the ones for which he had great teachers.

“It would be great if I could be a teacher that makes my students love something,” he said.

His real passion for teaching, however, stems from the absence of male role models for many children in the U.S.

“I want to be a teacher that my students can look up to.”

And as a student in the School of Education, he is already getting some practice. Every Wednesday, Shelley teaches students in a 3rd grade classroom at Carrboro Elementary School as part of his student teaching experience.

“This is one of the few majors where you actually get to start doing your job while you are still in school,” he said, “I love it.”

But teaching isn’t the only thing Shelley loves to do. An avid and frequent singer, Shelley is not only a member, but is general director of the campus a cappella group, “Psalm 100.”

“It is my favorite part of college for sure,” he said, “Really everybody who knows me knows that I’m always singing.”

In addition to “Psalm 100,” Shelley is a member of Cornerstone Ministries as well as several intramural sports teams.

Upon graduation, Shelley hopes to begin teaching right away somewhere in the Triangle area.

“I am very excited to begin making an impact and start instilling a love for learning in kids.”

By Ellen Black, a student in UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Photo by Mike Hobbs, UNC School of Education.

Published October 31, 2013.

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