Shari Gateley Chosen as District’s Teacher of the Year

03.07.2018 6:31 AM

Putnam City West High School English teacher Shari Gateley was named Putnam City Schools’ “Teacher of the Year” during the district’s annual celebration of teaching excellence Tuesday night.

“This year I was reminded again how important our job is as educators and how it matters every single day, and how exhausting it is that it matters every single day. I could not do this job without the building that I’m in, where I have the best teacher friends and the best administrative staff. And then whenever I go home I have the best support there that I could possibly have. I appreciate so much the support that I have from the people in my life,” Gateley said in accepting the award.

Gateley is in her seventh year of teaching, all of them at the high school she graduated from. It’s a career marked by excellence, says Avery Gilliland, Putnam City West principal.

“If I were going to describe Shari in one word, it would be passionate. She believes in her heart and shows in her actions that every day we have a great responsibility to serve students. It’s never about her. It always about providing what our students need. She takes every opportunity to make a difference in kids’ lives and is rewarded by seeing them do well after they leave our school,” Gilliland says.

Gateley took an indirect path to her teaching career. As a sociology major at Southern Nazarene University, she worked one summer at a camp that hosted teens with AIDS or HIV. Gateley struggled to connect with one particular camper, but realized a week-long camp was not enough to gain trust and form a relationship. The experience planted a desire in Gateley to work with teens, especially those with troubled lives.

Four years later, working in an unfulfilling sales job and remembering the experience with the camper she tried to connect with, Gateley contemplated her future. How could she make a difference in the world? The answer that she arrived at was to work in the field of education. She went back to school at the University of Oklahoma, earned a degree in English and then pursued and received alternative certification to teach.

After joining the faculty at Putnam City West, Gateley devoted herself to becoming the best teacher she could be. She sought guidance from veteran teachers, attended every professional development program she could, asked for advice from instructional coaches and became a voracious reader of literature on topics such as classroom management, lesson planning and pedagogy.

Her passion to build her teaching skills has not diminished. Even now, Gateley is working on a master’s degree in Teaching English to Students of Other Languages while also beginning the process of earning National Board Certification.

Gateley is an accomplished teacher who says her greatest accomplishments come from relationships she has built with students. At school students seek her out for guidance or a safe place to share their fears and frustrations. With some students she’s broken down walls and helped clear away years of baggage, later to be told she was the first adult not to give up on them. She attends countless events her students are involved in outside of school to show she cares about them personally. She’s attended everything from quinceaneras of current students to weddings of former students.

“Teaching is more important than delivering a curriculum or helping a student pass a test; it is about creating an environment that is not just four walls but is a home for students that inspires hopes and dreams. It is an environment that works toward breaking down every barrier possible to ensure success beyond the classroom,” Gateley says.

Gilliland says building relationships is natural for Gateley.

“She’s outgoing. She’s funny. She has a deep desire to serve. I think kids see all of that from the start. She’s able to get to know them and reach them while at the same time expressing the value of what she’s teaching. It’s a great quality for a teacher to have, and it comes easily to her,” Gilliland says.

Building relationships with students is part of what helped Gateley transform the Putnam City West’s advanced placement English program. Because of the confidence and trust students have in her, the program has grown from just 30 students to 100. Students are attracted to the program because they see it as a safe place to be challenged and learn.

When she’s not in the classroom, Gateley is still focused on teaching and learning. She has organized books drives for her advanced placement students who were not able to afford novels for the class. She helps students from various high schools write college entrance essays and improve their ACT scores. She is a teacher to other teachers, having presented staff development sessions on topics such as Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS), ACT Data and Classroom Strategies and Standards Based Grading. She has mentored student teachers and new teachers alike, helping them learn skills they need to be an effective teacher.

For Gateley, the need to help students be successful is always present.

“The students sitting in our classrooms today are dreaming about their future in which they become a doctor, lawyer, teacher or even president of the United States. They deserve every opportunity to make their dreams come true. They are our future, and that future is worth investing in,” Gateley says.