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Haywood County’s Heather Smith is North Carolina’s 2024 Teacher of the Year

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Waynesville Middle School eighth grade math teacher Heather Smith, who said she seeks to connect what she teaches to real-life applications, was named the 2024 Burroughs Wellcome North Carolina Teacher of the Year during a ceremony on Friday.

“We want to show the students of North Carolina that no matter the background, no matter the subject area, no matter what curriculum they learn, we are here to support them on their journey,” Smith said in her acceptance speech. “And our job is so much more than what is going on inside of our classroom… We are here to help prepare them for the future, providing them multiple avenues, opening their eyes to the opportunities that they never knew they had.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said as a teacher, Smith works to promote an inclusive environment while encouraging her students to become critical thinkers who “collaborate and take ownership of their learning.”

“Heather is a change agent for public education — both for her colleagues and for her students. I’m so impressed with how she values the importance of real-world application in day-to-day instruction and how she’s made it a priority to help students see it too,” Truitt said in a press release.

Dr. Trevor Putnam, superintendent of Haywood County Schools, said Smith always strives to work hard to continue improving her skills to serve her students. 

“Mrs. Smith has an insatiable love of students that can be seen by all she encounters. Her competitive nature drives her to be the best for her students each day and she is never content with past accomplishments or service to others,” Putnam said in the press release.

Smith, who has been a teacher for seven years, will soon begin her service as North Carolina Teacher of the Year and will act as a representative and advocate for teachers in the state. 

Smith will be able to go on to participate in the National Teacher of the Year Conference as well as a seminar at N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

In her acceptance speech, Smith thanked God, her husband and family, her colleagues at Haywood County Schools, and others.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

The ceremony also honored the eight other regional Teacher of the Year winners. The honorees include:

  • Northeast: Anita Rubino-Thomas, Currituck County High School (Currituck County Schools)
  • Southeast: Nardi Routten, Creekside Elementary School (Craven County Schools)
  • North Central: Rachel Brackney, SouthWest Edgecombe High School (Edgecombe County Public Schools)
  • Sandhills: Jennifer Blake, Carthage Elementary School (Moore County Schools)
  • Piedmont Triad: Will Marrs, Davie County High School (Davie County Schools)
  • Southwest: Sarah Lefebvre, Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle School (Union County Public Schools)
  • Northwest: Erik Mortensen, Watauga High School (Watauga County Schools)
  • Western: Heather Smith, Waynesville Middle School (Haywood County Schools)
  • Charter School: Lee Haywood, Uwharrie Charter Academy

Connecting education to life outside the classroom

A Western Carolina University graduate and a National Board Certified teacher, Smith has taught at Haywood County Schools throughout her career — including at Canton Middle School and Clyde Elementary School. She started teaching at Waynesville Middle School in 2019.

“It is my job as an educator, and my hope for all educators, to show students the relevance of what is happening in our classrooms, and connect it to their life outside of the classroom,” Smith said on Friday. “Allowing students to learn skills to be successful and kind human beings that can thrive in the world around them.”

Smith said her students have taught her many lessons over the years, including the value of humor, the importance of showing up and offering support for students inside and outside of the classroom, and that everyone can be a math student.

“The best part about math is there’s 100 ways to get to one answer. I can celebrate the fact that you did it this way. And we can also celebrate the fact that somebody else did it another way,” Smith said in a video that was shown at the ceremony. “The other thing that we do is we celebrate our failures. So we are going to celebrate when we make mistakes because we have to work together to find a way to get to that end result.”

With her win, Smith follows 2023 Teacher of the Year Kimberly Jones, an English teacher at Chapel Hill High School.

The Teacher of the Year program has celebrated teachers in North Carolina since 1970, according to the release.