Bradley Alumnus wins Teacher of the Year Award

November 16, 2010

Bradley alumnus and Spoon River College math teacher Jim Sheff received the Illinois Community College Faculty Association’s 2010 Instructor of the Year award.

Sheff, who graduated from Bradley in 2007, has taught developmental mathematics at SRC for three years. He praised Bradley’s education department, saying it has made him into the teacher he is today.

“The professors in the education department are very passionate and excellent teachers themselves,” he said.

Dr. Jean Grant, one of Sheff’s favorite professors during his time at Bradley, was delighted to hear of Jim’s award.

“As a pre-service teacher, Jim was very interested in making math relevant to the students that he taught and ensuring that they had the skills that they would need,” said Dr. Grant.

Sheff managed a home improvement store for seven years before deciding to continue his education. He said his wife inspired him to become a teacher when she noticed his natural tendency toward teaching in both his job and his post in the Marine Corps Reserve.

He says his family remains an inspiration in his teaching at SRC, observing that “the hardest student you’ll ever teach is your own kid.”

Sheff takes a one-on-one approach with students who struggle with math, giving them focused attention to ensure they keep up with the rest of the class. It can be a challenge for Sheff and the students alike, but their difficulties inspire him to push them even harder until they succeed.

“I teach math for the victory dances,” he said.

He also emphasizes the personal relationship between teachers and students. He gives out his cell phone number so students can contact him if they need help, and on the first day of class he memorizes every student’s name.

According to Sheff, the key to overcoming a student’s fear of math is to help them have fun in the classroom.

“I don’t try to make math fun, I just have fun teaching,” he said, adding that by the end of the semester, many students who were frightened to take math classes now looked forward to their next one.

The award came as a surprise to Jim; he received an e-mail one Monday morning informing him that he had been nominated for and won the honor, which he accepted later the same week at an ICCFA conference.

The best part of receiving the award, he said, was knowing that he had greatly impressed not only the ICCFA, but also the SRC dean who nominated him.

“I would have picked someone different,” he said with a laugh.