Through and through

English teacher Julie Breeden named 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year

The first thing she noticed when walking through the doors for her job interview was the smell. The same smell of the concrete hallway leading to the historic SHS fieldhouse brought back memories from before she graduated. The nostalgia of the building made her glad to be back.
“I feel very comfortable here,” she said. “It feels completely different than it did when I was a student, and yet also exactly the same. That’s a little freaky.”
Julie Breeden, the 2022 Teacher of the Year, graduated from SHS in 1983. A Southport kid through and through, she found a way to give back to a school that meant so much to her.
Being a Southport graduate and coming back to work in the same place provided Breeden with a relationship with the school that she would otherwise never have had.
“I think when you build a system when you go to school someplace and you get to go back and work there,” Principal Brian Knight said. “I think there’s a different level of connection that you have, like this is where you went to school. I mean, there’s pride when that comes in.”
When Breeden attended SHS, she was involved in many different aspects of the school. She was drum major of the Marching Cards as well as Editor-in-Chief of The Anchor. She also says she had a great experience in her classes while at SHS.
“I felt like (the teachers) were part of what made my time at Southport really good besides just my friends,” Breeden said.
After graduating from SHS, she started working towards a bachelor’s degree from IUPUI to further her education.
While most people leave high school with some sort of idea of what they want to pursue education and career-wise, Breeden had no clue what she wanted to do. So, she went into college as an undecided major, not knowing what life had in store for her, but hopeful she would figure it out.
However, as the end of her second year rolled around, she was still undecided.
“About my sophomore year of college, in the summer,” Breeden said, “I was talking to my academic advisor and he said, ‘You know, Julie, you probably ought to declare a major.’”
Being a first-generation college student, Breeden wasn’t sure what careers were available to her with a college degree. Most of the adults in her life that had college degrees were the teachers that she had throughout school. She thinks that is what led to her pursuing teaching.
“I don’t think I had a vision of what else you could do with a college degree…,” Breeden said. “And still today, you know, you look at job listings, and I think, ‘I don’t know what any of these jobs do, but I know what this job does.’”
After graduating from IUPUI, she did her student teaching at Perry Meridian. Shortly after, she got her first teaching job at Scecina Memorial High School.
She spent seven years teaching there before she began to feel burnt out. Feeling like it wasn’t the best fit anymore, she decided that it was time for her to leave teaching.
“If you give everything you have,” Breeden said, “then you have nothing left and you’re burnt out. That’s kind of where I was.”
Breeden took a hiatus, during which time she primarily worked in the restaurant business. After six years, though, she knew she needed to go back. She said that the break was just what she needed to realize her passion for teaching.
Being out for this long filled Breeden with a feeling of boredom. She realized that teaching did, in fact, make her happy and it was what she wanted to do with her life.
“I didn’t miss it at first,” Breeden said. “But I missed it after a while. And I thought at some point, six years in, I was just ready to return.”
However, she knew she didn’t want to return to Scecina. When given the opportunity to return to SHS, she knew the right choice for her immediately.
“If you had asked, ‘Oh, you can go back to teaching and you can go to that other place that you left or you can go to Southport High School’, there’s no question,” Breeden said. “All of the feelings around going back to Southport felt very positive.”
Since then, she’s been working at SHS for 21 years as an English teacher. And while here, she has tried to bring the same feelings to students at SHS as she felt while being a student herself. She hopes to connect with her students through her teaching.
“My teaching style tends to lend itself more to discussion,” Breeden said. “I think of it as like a professional-level book club.”
Assistant principal Joe Horvath agrees that Breeden runs her classroom in a sort of question-discussion format, with a creative approach to how these discussions are run.
“Breeden is not so much of a teacher anymore as she is the facilitator of these kids asking questions,” Horvath said.
She has also enabled a new class to be taught at SHS in her time here. After about 10 years of working at SHS, Breeden got an email asking if anyone would be interested in teaching a Dual Credit English course. Breeden was immediately intrigued.
She went through the process of receiving the qualifications through the University of Indianapolis to teach the course and made it a new class available for students. This process includes receiving a master’s degree in the content field that a teacher will be teaching.
Breeden has two master’s degrees (English and education). She’s used these to teach both the Dual Credit and AP options of her classes.
While she teaches Dual Credit classes, she also is the head SHS representative for the National Council for Teachers of English.
With that organization, Breeden makes efforts to make SHS’s English department better. Each year, when the organization has their conference, they have a guest speaker from one of the schools. Breeden reaches out in SHS to encourage English teachers to do it.
Day-to-day life in Breeden’s classroom will show students that her class isn’t just Breeden standing in the front of the room reading off of a presentation. It is, however, more of a student-driven open discussion over what they’ve been learning about.
“I try to help my students think critically about things they read and things that they write,” Breeden said. “I try to challenge them with thoughtful questions about both their reading and their writing and get them to view it differently or determine why they’ve done what they’ve done or think what they think.”
Horvath agrees that Breeden runs her classroom in a sort of question-discussion format, with a creative approach to the questions she does ask.
“Ms. Breeden admittedly does not write down the questions that she’s going to ask students,” Horvath said. “What she does is based upon the information that she’s getting from them… And then once she gets where they’re going, then she starts to generate questions that get the students to actually start generating questions.”
With her style of teaching, she knows that she has gained a bit of a “scary” and “tough” reputation among students while at SHS. Breeden, however, wants people to know that she isn’t as intimidating as she seems.
2021 SHS graduate Emma Herwehe agrees that though this may be how she is perceived, there is more to Breeden than meets the eye.
“I think she has this notion of being a tough English teacher…,” Herwehe said. “But she is such a big softy. Once you get to know her, she really is just there for you as a teacher.”
Breeden’s way of teaching has left a mark on several students, including senior Avery Tucker, who thinks Breeden set her up for success.
“It was different than any other regular English class I’d had,” Tucker said. “She was the only teacher I felt like prepared me for college at all.”
Breeden says in her classroom her philosophy is to start her students where they are and take them as far as she possibly can.
“I very much try to teach up,” Breeden said. “I don’t try to oversimplify things for students. I try to use vocabulary that is maybe known to them, but not common to them and try to always be stretching them just a little bit.”
Senior Karim Aloys agrees that Breeden challenges her students to go farther than where they’re currently at. English not being his first language, Aloys says Breeden reassured him that he was “an amazing writer” and that it motivated him further in that class.
Breeden says that SHS has done just as much for her as she has for the students here and she wishes she had started teaching here earlier.
“I don’t know if I would have ever quit,” Breeden said. “If I’d been hired at Southport to start with… I might not have had such a fragmented career.”
But, her path has led her here, to being named the Teacher of the Year. Breeden, however, says she has no clue why she was chosen.
“I have no Earthly idea,” Breeden said. “I would like to think it’s for… what I’m doing in the classroom… but I think a lot of people do that and they aren’t Teacher of the Year, so I don’t know why me.”
While Breeden may not know why she was selected for the award, many of her coworkers believe that this title is well deserved.
“She’s certainly beyond qualified and beyond knowledgeable,” English teacher Sara Kohne said. “She’s just a wise person.”
Knight also says Breeden has earned the recognition she’s getting.
“When you see (the nominations) come through, there’s people that you kind of are silently rooting for and that you hope that they get the opportunity because it is very, very well deserved,” Knight said.“And, she does really good things for kids and so yeah, I was glad when it ended up being her.”
The principal gets the privilege of telling the recipient of the Teacher of the Year award the news. He says Breeden had a response unlike most, with a mixture of both shock and tears.
From being an achieving SHS graduate to being Teacher of the Year, Breeden has played her part in contributing to the school.
“Teacher of the Year should be the best teacher in the school,” English teacher Sam Hanley said. “If you ask anyone on the (nomination) board, (Breeden is) who it is.”