Photo by Shane Wynn
Sherry Kelley is the keeper of the 2-year-olds.
She’s the ultimate book reader, line leader and ABC’er. She’s the queen of circle time, snack time and play time — and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kelley began teaching at her local church, and when she wanted to learn more about education, she read books and attended conferences. When the Shaw Jewish Community Center in Akron approached her to teach 2-year-olds, she reluctantly accepted the position. Today, over 30 years later, she’s still teaching at the same school and has had the same classroom helper, Patti Ulrich, for about 15 years.
Having interacted with so many children over the years, Kelley knows what works and what doesn’t. She understands how to talk to kids and how to open their minds to learning.
She once attended a conference in which the teachers were told that they can either cause children to love school or hate it. Many dropped out of the conference because it was too much responsibility for them.
“I took it as a challenge. I want to have these kids believe that learning is fun,” she says. “I want them to have the time of their lives in my classroom.”
Why did you pursue teaching? Did you expect you’d be teaching for over 30 years?
SK: I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but I always had people skills. I think it started with my baby brother; I helped with him when he was young. He was such a joy! As I grew older, I always found myself teaching and helping others. I remember taking piano lessons and then teaching everyone else the tunes.
It takes a lot of patience to train children, and not many people have the patience. They yell, and yelling is not teaching. Teaching is training these kids to do the right thing.
I never imagined I’d be here so long but I love what I do, and time has gone by so quickly. When something is your passion, time flies. I haven’t even considered retiring. I take it one day at a time.
What’s the most rewarding part of your profession?
SK: Seeing how my children grow into loving, caring, kind adults. A couple of girls that I taught are now teachers, and they come and visit me. A lot of my former students who were friends when they were two are still friends to this day.
What was it like to win the “This City Reads! Literacy is Life Award” last year?
SK: It was amazing! My boss, Lori Bernstein [director of the Shaw JCC’s Early Childhood Education and School-Age Services] nominated me for the award. There was a breakfast at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, and they surprised me. I’m so naïve; I opened the program and said, “Look! There’s a woman speaking today named Sherry Kelley too! She has my name!” Then they had to tell me it was me. I was so shocked but I was also honored. I love books and love training my children to love them as well, to turn pages, and to teach them that letters form words.
What are the most typical questions parents ask you?
SK: They mostly ask me how I do it all day, every day! I tell them it’s a passion and a gift, and I love it so much. You couldn’t do what I do unless you love it. Potty training is also a big thing, especially with boys. I just tell parents that boys are little men, and they’re stubborn; they won’t potty train until they’re ready.
How should parents deal with “The Terrible Twos”?
SK: I don’t believe in The Terrible Twos. People just don’t know how to talk or communicate with 2-year-olds. Children don’t understand abstract concepts. Telling them to “stop being mean” or “to share” is not the answer; those are not concrete. You have to tell them that friends are for loving and not hitting, that we hit pillows instead if we’re upset. Instead of sharing, I tell them about “taking turns” — it makes things more concrete.
What do the kids learn in your classroom?
SK: They learn listening skills, following directions and self-control. I teach them ABCs, words, books and puzzles. I try to develop their fine motor skills by using Legos and building with small blocks. Bouncing basketballs and running around the gym develop their gross motor skills. I’m always switching things up in my classroom. My children are always different, and they learn differently from one another.
Do you have children or grandchildren?
SK: I have two children, and my three wonderful grandchildren have all come through the JCC for schooling. I even have a great-granddaughter who’s 1-1/2 years old; I really hope she comes here when she’s two!
In my spare time, you’ll find me …
SK: Babysitting! I baby-sit at weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. I love spending any spare time I have with children; I know that’s not normal for most people, but I love it.
What would surprise us about you?
SK: People can never guess my age! The parents can never guess that I’m 66. Chasing after all those kids keeps me young!
/ Writer Katelyn Murphy is an editorial intern with akronlife. She is a senior at KSU working on her bachelor’s in magazine journalism.
E-mail them to editor Abby Cymerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.