Krystal Shipp's teaching career reached a crossroads when her family moved from Monticello to Russellville in 2019.
She could have remained on the path she had been on and loved for more than a decade, which was teaching elementary school.
Then there was the opportunity to accept a new challenge by joining the faculty at Arkansas Tech University and helping the next generation of educators begin their teaching journey.
"It was heavy on my heart," said Shipp while reflecting on her decision. "I prayed about it and trusted that God wanted me to make a bigger impact in education by teaching our future teachers."
She chose the less familiar path, and now Arkansas Tech students have registered their opinion about her decision by electing Shipp 2021 ATU professor of the year.
"I left the public school, elementary classroom 2.5 years ago totally not knowing if I made the right choice," said Shipp. "It was such a tough decision because elementary teaching was all I knew and loved. There are still days that I miss teaching elementary kiddos, but this is confirmation that I am making a bigger impact in teaching, curriculum and instruction…just in a different way."
Shipp, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Central Arkansas and a Master of Education degree from Arkansas Tech, became a student of higher education when she took on her new role as instructor of curriculum and instruction. She adopted methods such as evaluating her teaching based upon her students' performance on assessments and seeking guidance from senior faculty members to improve her instructional methods.
In addition, she has found the skills in preparation and organization she honed as an elementary teacher have been transferable to her new role.
"I use a lot of hands-on materials within my classroom," said Shipp. "Students enjoy coming to my class because of the hands-on learning. The biggest part of preparing to be a future teacher is understanding real-life examples. I focus on providing experiences that will help future teachers."
Another skill that Shipp has found applicable regardless of the age of her students has been investing in them as people.
"I make it a personal goal to get to know all of my students by name and try to find out their interests," said Shipp. "I enjoy being their instructor, but also someone they can come and talk to about anything going on in their life."
Shipp's learning curve as a new college instructor was complicated in March 2020 when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic arrived in Arkansas and classes shifted to a virtual format. She recalls there were struggles at first, but as she made the investment of time necessary to learn new technologies she regained her footing.
She knew she had turned a corner in her transition to online instruction when she received a piece of positive feedback.
"One student in my class sent me a letter that said, 'in my short time of being in your class, you have inspired me in so many ways,'" said Shipp. "I was so thankful she sent me this letter because in a time of a pandemic my goal was always to impact my students in a positive way. So even though we were miles apart, I felt like we still had a great semester together."
Through a career change, a pandemic and everything else, Shipp has learned there is at least one constant: for her, students come first.
"My number one goal is to let my students know that I support them and that I am here for them," said Shipp. "I love teaching at Arkansas Tech University. I take my job very seriously. It takes true grit to work at Arkansas Tech University. To me, grit is effort, passion, growth and determination. No matter what is going on, I make sure when I walk onto the Arkansas Tech campus I put a smile on my face and create a positive environment wherever I go.
"I am beyond blessed for my job at ATU," continued Shipp. "Thank you to Dr. Linda Bean (dean of the ATU College of Education) and the other administrators for hiring me and believing in me. I love making a positive impact on my students. My favorite quote is, 'the influence of a great teacher can never be erased.' I share this quote with my students each semester. I will always love the littles, but my passion has changed and now my heart is with the college-age student. I absolutely love ATU. I work with such amazing co-workers and students. I am humbled to say the least."