Jill Shrum's interview for a teaching job at Hendersonville High was anything but auspicious. She sped down the road to a school she had never been to before and ended up at Rock Castle.
When she finally arrived at HHS, she was late and, well, not feeling so fresh. "I was sweating through my clothes," she recalled.
To her surprise, Shrum got the job - wet clothes and all - and spent the next 19 years in the school's agriculture department. This year, she got another surprise: Sumner County Teacher of the Year honors.
"I'm very humble because I really didn't expect it," said Shrum, who, because of the teacher-selected county award, is now in the running for state and national teacher of the year titles. "It was a big shock."
It wasn't such a shock to those who know Shrum, whose students are often sprawled over long wooden tables with glue and scissors doing one project or another.
"She really cares about her students and her job, and it shows in the way she works," said Rachel Hendrix, another HHS agriculture teacher.
Principal Joni Worsham called Shrum "one of the most dedicated teachers I've ever met."
Originally, her ideal career path wasn't centered around teaching. Shrum grew up on a tobacco farm in Macon County and always enjoyed nature. Her mother owned a flower shop, which might account for her passion for floral design. After graduating with a degree in horticulture, she opened an interiorscaping business and helped train floriculture teams in Gallatin.
But at age 40, a time when many people are beginning to think about job security and retirement plans, Shrum was thinking about a new challenge.
"I felt something was missing," she said. "I remembered how much I loved being in high school, so that's what I went back to."
Since 1995 she's taught floral design and other courses in the department, but floral design has been her favorite and, sadly for Shrum and others, it will end soon because of changes at the state level. The class will be replaced next school year by plant science and hydra culture.
"I've been a little, let's say, bitter," Shrum said candidly of the decision.
But Worsham is confident Shrum will make her new class as engaging as her old one.
" I believe that Mrs. Shrum will be able to creatively make the new class more than just a science credit," Worsham said. "She can push her students to do their best."
Article by Sammy Hall, Julie Incorvaia, Madison Seals, and Robert Scott