Sixteen years ago, Laura Nedd Shelton was a correctional officer in a men’s prison in Virginia wondering how she could help affect people’s lives — especially young men’s lives — before they made bad choices that had an impact on their futures.
She decided to teach.
At 30, Shelton joined the Prince George’s County resident teachers program, which provides an alternative route to teacher certification for anyone who does not have teaching experience or educational courses.
“I wanted to affect change,” said Shelton, who recently was named Prince George’s County Teacher of the Year.
According to those who nominated Shelton for the award, she has done what she set out to do.
“Mrs. Shelton left such a positive impact on my life, I kept in contact with her after graduation,” wrote Brittney Clemons, a former student. “She started off as my teacher, evolved into a mentor, and now I can call her a great friend. . . She encouraged me to go to college and pursue my dreams.”
Shelton said that during her nearly seven years working in the men’s prison, she saw men of all ages and educational backgrounds with endless potential. She wished they had someone who could tap into their potential, to help steer them in the right direction.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Shelton said.
She chose to teach middle school instead of high school because she wanted to be able to guide students who might be on the edge of straying down the wrong path.
Shelton has worked in Prince George’s County for 15 years as a science teacher. The past four years have been at Benjamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy in Suitland. During her career, she also spent one year teaching health.
Shelton said she enjoys the fact that science allows her to interact with students during lessons.
“Science is a fun subject, you can blow up stuff,” Shelton said, laughing. “Well, not really. You know what I mean.”
She said she tries to instill in her students a desire to learn and to realize that learning is a “lifelong process.”
“I just like trying to generate the enthusiasm about gaining knowledge,” she said.
Shelton, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y, said she shares with her students her own educational experience. She attended American University for four years and dropped out.
She had an apartment and a “little job” and eventually ended up returning home with her mother, who had moved to Virginia.
Shelton went back to college at Longwood University and obtained her bachelor’s degree at 28.
“I share my life experience with my students,” she said. “I’m human. I’m not perfect. Life is all about choices. What does the song say: ‘Parents just don’t understand.’ I want them to know that I do get it. I’ve been there. I had goals and I just persevered.”