By Shrija Krishnan, Staff Reporter When English teacher Cyndi Hyatt organized a GoFundMe this May, she raised $2,100 almost instantly. Hyatt attributes the rapid donations to the subject of the fundraiser: financing a memorial in honor of beloved former teacher Judith Shepherd. During her 42 years of service for the T/E School District, Shepherd worked...
By Shrija Krishnan, Staff Reporter
When English teacher Cyndi Hyatt organized a GoFundMe this May, she raised $2,100 almost instantly. Hyatt attributes the rapid donations to the subject of the fundraiser: financing a memorial in honor of beloved former teacher Judith Shepherd.
During her 42 years of service for the T/E School District, Shepherd worked in a myriad of roles, beginning her career as an instructional aide at T/E Middle School and later working for the Conestoga English department. No matter the position, Shepherd always prioritized her students.
Her unique approach to teaching involved facilitating open discussion and encouraging creative outlets. Hyatt explained that, as a teacher, Shepherd was old-school, conducting her classes similar to those of a college professor.
“She was one of those iconic teachers in that she had a larger-than-life personality. She was a large woman (and) dressed in a manner where she had big jewelry and loved hats and had such eloquence. She was that kind of teacher,” Hyatt said.
With her commanding presence, Shepherd was able to capture the room simply through the manner in which she spoke. Ben Smith, an English teacher who worked with Shepherd for 20 years, remembers her teaching style as engaging and one in which students had the opportunity to riff in a classroom setting.
“I taught across from her, (and) if you walked down the hallway past Mrs. Shepherd’s room, and a student was singing an aria from an opera, and someone else was doing a monologue, and students were hanging art all around, you’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Judith’s class,’” Smith said. “So my understanding of Judith as a teacher was (that) it was theater. It was about creative expression and really great, deep conversations.”
Smith remembers Shepherd as a conversationalist, both inside and outside the classroom. She wanted real relationships with the people with whom she taught, he recalled, which made it easy to establish a rapport with her.
“Judith was so many things. As a colleague and as a friend, she was someone who wanted to know about you. She would interview you — some might say interrogate you — for the details of your life, but it was because she just wanted to know you really well. It wasn’t just about the job (for her),” Smith said.
Due to her lengthy tenure at Conestoga, Shepherd was well respected by her colleagues, one reason for the collective effort to install a memorial in her memory. Smith recalls that she had institutional knowledge of the school from working in so many different positions and was a source for knowing how it operated.
“She was like our grand statesman of the English department; our matriarch. I once described her as part museum, in the sense that you could go to her to get a bit of culture but also as someone who housed a lot of culture,” Smith said.
Shepherd’s influence extended past the contours of her department, as well. Jon Koenig recounts how, as a newer teacher working in the Social Studies department, he often took counsel from Shepherd. As a philosophy and ethics teacher, he admired her ability to entertain sporadic discussions in her classroom, which contrasted with the more structured format of other classes. Koenig believes Shepherd exuded a spirit of inquiry, integrating large questions into her teaching and bringing forth student voices.
“When you talked to Judith, you knew she was about the students. As a young teacher, I really admired that, especially from a person who’s done it a lot (and) who’s sharing their ideas with me,” Koenig said. “Frankly, for someone who was not in my department, I talked to Judith Shepherd more frequently than I would have (imagined). And I think it’s because we had similar interests in caring for those types of conversations in class.”
A group of Shepherd’s friends will install a memorial bench and plaque in her honor in the small courtyard directly under Room 250, her former classroom. Students in the life skills program will plant 175 tulip bulbs, her favorite flower, surrounding the memorial. Additionally, a group of Shepherd’s friends will hold a dedication commemorating her on Oct. 24 at 4 p.m. The program is currently set to include a cello performance, poetry recitation and words of remembrance.
Shrija Krishnan can be reached at [email protected]
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