UWM grad student chosen for National Teachers Hall of Fame

Shelly Moore Krajacic wants to share her enthusiasm for teaching with everyone.

Despite the challenges and recent criticism of teachers, she said, “Teaching is the single greatest profession there is.”

Krajacic, a South Milwaukee High School teacher, who is also a graduate student in the Urban Education Doctoral program at UWM, was one of two Wisconsin teachers chosen for the National Teachers Hall of Fame recently.

The teacher organization’s focus is on drawing public attention to exceptional career teachers through a recognition program that honors five outstanding teachers nationally every year.

Always wanted to teach

Krajacic knew she wanted to be a teacher from her earliest years.

“Both of my parents are teachers and I have one grandparent on each side of the family who’s a teacher, so it’s the family business,” she said. Krajacic grew up practicing her own teaching skills on her little brother and stuffed animals, she recalled.

While she briefly considered law school, her undergraduate experiences in observing and visiting classrooms cemented her choice. “Once you try it, you know. I think it’s where I was meant to be.”

She has been a teacher for more than 25 years, starting out teaching drama at Ellsworth High School in northwestern Wisconsin in 1998. She has taught junior and senior English at South Milwaukee for the past three years. The school surprised her with a ceremony on March 21 when the national honor was announced.

Krajacic earned her B.S. in education in English, political science and theater from the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point and her master’s degree in English Education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Looking for a challenge

She decided to start the doctoral program at UWM shortly after the birth of her daughter in October 2018 when she was taking some time off from teaching.

“I’m always looking for the next challenge,” she said. While most of her career had been spent in rural schools, she added, “I wanted to learn something new.” She chose UWM’s urban education doctoral program after researching the program and the professors leading it.

“Their passion for education showed me this was definitely where I wanted to go.” She credits her doctoral advisor, Candance Doerr-Stevens, associate professor of teaching and learning, with being a major influence.

At this point, Krajacic is getting the preliminary approval she needs for her doctoral thesis, and hopes to finish her doctorate by December 2025.

Thesis grew from experience

Her thesis will focus on anti-racist education of incoming English language arts teachers – the extent to which they view themselves as anti-racist educators and what they think that is.

That interest grew out of two of her own experiences.

 One was the literature she taught in her advanced placement English class. “You find a lot of history entrenched in what was recognized as (being) of value.” She wondered why certain books were chosen and not others.

The other reason grew out of an experience early in her career as teacher in a small rural school district. A student asked her about the religion of Black Americans in the U.S.

“He was authentically confused. We talk about teaching of different values and cultures in urban places, but there’s a deep need for that understanding everywhere.”

Supporter of teachers

Doerr-Stevens said that Krajacic is a strong supporter of teachers.

“Shelly Krajacic’s sharp eye for policy trends within education and commitment to the field overall make her a strong voice of support for teachers in both urban and rural contexts,” Doerr-Stevens said. “I look forward to seeing her research continue to support equitable teaching practices and policy.”

Krajacic was nominated for the award by colleagues at South Milwaukee and former superintendent Jeff Weiss. It’s a really great district, and she really enjoys teaching there, Krajacic said.

While she always has a plan for her classes, the students keep the work interesting.

“I like that it’s different every day. I never know what my students are going to bring to me, whether it’s challenges or successes.”

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