OKEECHOBEE — Jean Sherlock has been a member of the Okeechobee school system for over 25 years. She was born in Tampa but raised in Daytona Beach and graduated from Mainland High School in 1990. She went to the Daytona State College for two years, transferred to Stetson University and graduated in 1994. Raised by a single mother, she was the youngest of four children, and was the first and only child to graduate from high school and continue on to college. She knew she was going to need scholarships if she was going to make it to college. She said she knew from the time she was in second grade that she wanted to be a teacher someday. When she was a child, she had a teacher who paid extra attention to her and made her feel like she could rule the world one day, and she knew she wanted to make someone else feel that way, too. She never changed her plans. When she graduated, she was awarded the Chappie James Most Promising Teacher Scholarship, which gave her four years of college as long as she taught for four years in the state of Florida.
When she graduated, she went to a job fair where she met Bill Owens from Okeechobee. He was the head of human resources at that time, and he got her an interview with the principal of Yearling Middle School. She started at Yearling in January 1995 and, she said, it made a big impact on her teaching career. She feels like she cut her teeth there. She learned what type of teacher she wanted to be. She got to open Osceola. She taught eighth grade English for 10 years and then went out to the high school.
She spent nine years teaching English II and English II Honors, and that was a great experience, she said, because she had some of the students she had taught in eighth grade. They really became her “Sherlock kids in a double way.” She has a saying in her classroom, “Once a Sherlock kid, always a Sherlock kid.” Even her kids from that first year who are in their 30s remember that, she said.
After that, she left the classroom and became the instructional coach for three and a half years, and it was fine, but, she said, it just didn’t feed her soul. She missed the kids desperately. She was teaching teachers, and it just wasn’t the same. When the opportunity arose to step into the position in the media center, she jumped at it. She likens herself to a grandmother. The teachers can bring her their kids, and she can get them pumped up on wonderful young adult literature. She doesn’t have to worry about assigning the hard stuff. Then she sends them back to their parents AKA their teachers, and they can do the lesson plans and grade papers which are the hardest things about being a teacher. So, now she is back with students again and gets to read all the time. “It’s a win-win,” she said.
In 2014, she got her master’s in educational leadership. She had considered becoming an assistant principal and then possibly a principal, but she no longer has those endeavors. She loves being on the ground and spending all her time one on one or 25 to one with the students. That is where she is the happiest.
She enjoys putting books in the hands of struggling readers, finding just the right book for them. It doesn’t matter what it is. Whether it’s a graphic novel or a book that is five grade levels ahead of where their reading abilities are or five grade levels below. “I just want them to read for the love of reading,” she said.
While she was out of the classroom, she got sick. She now has a chronic illness that requires her husband to be her caregiver, and it is because of him that she is able to have a job, she said. Otherwise, she would have to be on home health. Because of his care, she is able to have a normal life. He and their son have made a ton of sacrifices, she said. Tony Sherlock is a teacher, too. He teaches special education at the high school.
In 2002, they adopted their son, Anthony. He was 5 weeks old when they adopted him. They went through several years of infertility and they knew they wanted to be parents. Mr. Sherlock is adopted as well, so adopting their son was kind of a full-circle moment, said Mrs. Sherlock.
They were nervous when the time came, but she just wanted to be a mom, she said. They didn’t care what gender or race. They just wanted to be parents. That was just something that was missing in their lives. As an eighth grade teacher, when her students would leave on the last day of school, she would stand at the door and cry, because they had been her kids for a year, and she probably wouldn’t see them again, and she was really invested in her kids. She wanted to have a kid of her own that didn’t leave after a year.
When they got the phone call, the case worker told her the baby was biracial, and Mrs. Sherlock thought, “I don’t care,” but then they talked about it, because sometimes the world and the community isn’t always real understanding of differences, she said. They wondered if it would be a challenge to raise him here, and they have had a ton of community support. She always says her son has grown up in a fish bowl, because she talks about him to her students all the time, and they all feel like they know him, but he has no idea who any of them are. He has had to work a little harder to establish his own identity as being more than just Jean and Tony’s kid. “Sometimes it is challenging for him, having two white parents. We are very blessed to have him. We are the lucky ones,” she said.
Mrs. Sherlock has taught over 2,500 students in her career and keeps in touch with many of them thanks to social media. She enjoys watching them grow up and have kids of their own. It’s very rewarding, she said. She is even beginning to see some of the children of her former students entering high school now which she said is just crazy! Some days she doesn’t realize how long she has been teaching. She loves Okeechobee and said it has been a great place to raise her son.
“It’s been a wonderful community that has been incredibly supportive of us over the years,” she said.