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Alumna Wins 'Oscar' of Teaching

Former graduate student earns prestigious Milken award

Rumors recently swirled through the Plymouth North High School halls about a mysterious school-wide assembly. But English/language arts teacher Shelley Terry, G’11, never imagined that the event was all about her.

The visibly shocked BSU alumna was surprised to receive the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Known as the Oscars of Teaching, the award recognizes early- and mid-career educators across the country for their accomplishments and promise.

“Somehow, somewhere, someone saw what I’ve been doing for the last 17 years,” Terry said, adding that teachers rarely receive the recognition they deserve. “To know that I was noticed is important.”

Terry earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire but, for financial reasons, was unable to complete student teaching. Thanks to Bridgewater State’s accelerated postbaccalaureate program, she fulfilled licensure requirements through night classes while working in Plymouth and receiving on-the-job feedback from Bridgewater faculty.

“Bridgewater gave me a way to do it without having to take out more loans,” said Terry, who went on to earn a master’s degree in teaching English. “Bridgewater put me in a place where I could be in the classroom.”

Shelley Terry has a shocked reaction after learning she won the award.

And the classroom is clearly where Terry belongs.

Her students called her “amazing” and “the best teacher ever” in messages on the classroom white board the day of the assembly. And her inbox is flooded with congratulatory notes from alumni dating back to her first year as a teacher.

“Many Plymouth North High graduates can trace their success in English-related careers right back to Shelley Terry’s classroom,” said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president at the Milken Family Foundation. “That is because in every endeavor she pursues, Shelley makes her message abundantly clear: Language is not only a passion, but also a way of life.”

The foundation does not accept applications or nominations for the award. Instead, it scours the country for educators like Terry who demonstrate excellence.

“At the end of the day, kids need teachers, and they all need us in different ways,” Terry said.

Many students remember her journalism class, where they produce newscasts that have garnered national recognition. One year, they even uncovered how prescription pads were stolen from a local hospital and used to fraudulently acquire drugs.

In an Advanced Placement class, students write literary critiques of The Great Gatsby, an assignment Terry based off her capstone project at Bridgewater.

While the Milken award comes with a $25,000 prize and the opportunity to network with other recipients, Terry most looks forward to being in her classroom inspiring students every day.  

“I think teaching is the most important job in the world,” she said.

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