NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Elizabeth Sheridan sees her role as a teacher at New Brunswick High School as a giver of guidance, a facilitator of dreams.
“My job is to supply students with the tools and skills they need for the future that they want,” she said. “I guess my style is I'm big on planning different ways to help them reach those goals. But, I also don't mind when the students kind of - through their work or through the ideas that they get - I certainly welcome when they kind of take the ship and steer it in a direction I didn't anticipate.”
She’s also apparently pretty good at being an inspiration, too.
She left such an indelible impression on one student last spring that he nominated her for a prestigious award – the 2020 Yale Educator Award.
Sheridan and 56 other teachers and 24 counselors were recently selected to receive the Yale Educator Award that recognizes outstanding educators from around the world who have supported and inspired their students to achieve at high levels.
For Sheridan, whose teaching itinerary this school year includes public speaking, a few English courses and some AVID (Advance Via Individual Determination) courses, the path to becoming a teacher can be traced to her early love affair with reading.
While other kids played superheroes or cops and robbers, she played library. Her classmates were left puzzled when she would pull a book out and read it when their classwork was complete. She would even read while she was walking – not something that she would recommend to any of her students.
In high school, she discovered “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte and her life hasn’t been the same.
Sheridan went to Rutgers to study how to break into the publishing industry, but after graduation, she found herself working in the school’s alumni relations department. At some point, she began to consider a career in teaching.
“I love literature and I love being around reading and I figured that teaching would be a way to help other people access that love, whether they already liked reading or not,” she said. “There's something for everybody out there, regardless if it's through fiction or nonfiction or graphic novels.”
Sharing that love of reading has become as meaningful as reading, itself. She remembers one girl in the summer class she taught who was a reluctant reader. However, she picked out a book in Sheridan’s personal classroom library and began to give it a chance.
“She finished the book, I think, in three days,” Sheridan said. “And she came back and asked for another. That was a great feeling. I really didn't do much except have books and make them available. So, that's a great feeling when you have kids who don’t particularly like reading, but they're able to find the book that makes them realize that reading is for everybody. And I don't think it's so much that you don't like reading or you don't like books. Maybe you just haven't found the right one yet.”