by Julia Kantor, Kim Schwartz, and Becky Beucher
It was a feeling like no other to enter into the magical space of a class taught by Shelby Wolf. A sense of warmth, artistry and love for the craft of teaching was palpable, as Shelby invited her students on a journey where they could not help but develop a love of children’s literature. Indeed, her expertise was recognized through numerous honors, including the prestigious President’s Teaching Scholar and Excellence in Teaching awards.
Shelby seamlessly wove in relevant research, including her influential work on children's engagement in literature, the teaching of literature, children's writing and writing assessment, and interpretation of text through the arts. She created a new world for pre-service and in-service teachers to consider that recognized kids as highly capable of talking about critical human rights issues and creating artistic, written and dramatic representations of literature. It was impossible to leave Shelby’s classroom without feeling a desire to promote social change with children.
Through her dramatic interpretations, Shelby famously breathed life into any book. As she read to her students, she embodied a range of emotions, voices, and a seemingly limitless repertoire of characters with her singular panache. One could not help but wonder how we could ever harness that passion, those voices, and yes, that magic in our own teaching. But Shelby taught us how to believe alongside her, so that we too could inspire our students as she had us.
Shelby’s deep interest in humanity was embodied in her relationships with colleagues, students, friends, and her cherished daughters, as she devoted herself not only to literature but also to the lives of others who were fortunate to know and love her. We are honored to carry all that she taught us, and the childhood magic that she helped us to rediscover, into our own work as educators.
In Shelby’s honor, dear friends and colleagues Penny Scott-Oliver and Traci Dille Haley coordinated a book drive for the Crestview Elementary School library, which had lost much of its collection in the September flood. A total of 141 high quality books bear the bookplate shown here. Librarian Nancy Carabell will feature the books in a special section of the library devoted to Caldecott and Newbury Award winners.
A sampling of memories shared by hundreds of Shelby's students, friends, and colleagues:
Shelby was an exemplary teacher and scholar. Shelby was beyond an expert; she was a guru. Shelby made us all think outside of the box and push ourselves to be excellent. Shelby humanized the art and science of teaching, illuminating the need for every teacher to see students as human beings first and learners second.
Shelby exuded love–for her teaching, for her craft, for her students. Shelby was full of wonder, a quality she brought out in all who knew her. Shelby was a bright light not only as an educator but also as a human being. Shelby was an incredible teacher, scholar, mentor and friend. Shelby truly was a gift.
Shelby taught me what it really meant to have a read aloud in my classroom. Shelby had a magical voice. Shelby reminded us that you're never too old for a picture book. Each time I do a read aloud in a class I can hear Shelby say, "If you just follow the punctuation, the children will be drawn to the book."
Shelby inspired my passion for children's literature. Shelby inspired me and because of her, I have the opportunity to inspire other little minds to love reading, too. Shelby inspired me to be a teacher. Shelby inspired me to spark a love of reading and books in all children. Shelby inspired me to inspire others. Shelby inspired me to always read aloud to my own children with enthusiasm and excitement. Shelby inspired me in my teaching, my personal life, and even with my family and my children. Shelby inspired me to study emergent literacy and to know how to blend family and academia. Shelby inspired me to take heart–that the battle to overcome the issues in education has not been lost.
Shelby was truly a life-changing teacher. Shelby was the best teacher I ever had.
Related Faculty: Shelby Wolf, in memoriam