Teacher Feature: Ashley incorporates comedy into discussions around class books


Known for his long hair and fashionable neckties that polish his formal attire, anyone can spot Shawn Ashley chatting with students in the hallway during passing time, which he says is one of his favorite parts of teaching. 

“I have chats with kids in the hallway that I’ve never had in class,” said Ashley. “It’s just fun to chat with kids, fun to chat with people. Just the social element.” 

A beloved teacher in the Pioneer English Department for 21 years, Ashley teaches freshman English and AP English Literature seniors. 

In the classroom, Ashley always tries to continue socializing with students, but framed within the context of class discussion. These discussions can lead to lengthy tangents, which serve to break up what is commonly seen as a difficult class. 

“The tangents just kind of happen. Sometimes it starts because I want to make the real-world connection. I think some teachers have super tight, step-by-step (lessons), which I think kind of takes a little of the fun away,” said Ashley. 

These tangents are, of course, educational. Pioneer senior Jadon Sterken, enjoys the discussions, with their blend of humor and on-topic relevance. 

“It’s always interesting to hear my classmate’s perspectives, and learn something in the process. Mr. Ashley also makes the discussions fun by interspersing literary analysis with comedy,” said Sterken. 

These discussions, often involving sports or his life at home, are made better by Ashley’s ability to connect personally with his students, which he attributes to a thought process early on in his teaching career. 

“The books (that we read) are real life…so I want to make that linkage with that life,” said Ashley.

And recently, Ashley stood on a desk to demonstrate connections between two books, a sight not uncommon to his fellow students.

The Pioneer English Department Chair, Don Packard, appreciates the work that Ashley does with his students, and the means by which he does so, citing dry humor as a main attribute for Ashley’s success. On a more serious note, Packard talks about how Ashley draws out the best from his pupils:

“He has high standards for all his students and himself that pushes kids past their comfort zone,” said Packard. “As a colleague, Mr. Ashley is thoughtful and committed to what is most important: helping students develop as readers, writers, and critical thinkers.”

Ashley is also in the unique position of being the only teacher at Pioneer to teach AP Literature to seniors. Though more than capable and clearly qualified and experienced, being the only teacher teaching a course presents its challenges. 

“If you’re doing something…it’s good to have somebody else who’s doing the same, as opposed to not having somebody who’s (teaching) my books,” said Ashley.

Whereas with his ninth grade class, where he has a slew of colleagues who teach the same material, with his AP classes, Ashley is, to some extent, on his own. 

Even with those challenges, in addition to the difficulties that simply come with teaching, Ashley always goes into the school day with a positive attitude. After multiple decades of teaching, Ashley’s mindset from 8 a.m. to 2:51 p.m. is summed up in his three words:

“It’s still fun.”