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Orange County teacher Xavier Adams named Beginning Teacher of the Year

If you were to ask Xavier Adams, the 2022 Beginning Teacher of the Year, when he first knew he wanted to be in the classroom, he wouldn’t know exactly where to start.

“I think I’m still learning that to be honest,” he said. “Just constantly learning and growing as a teacher right now.” 

Initially, Adams set out to follow in his dad’s footsteps. A pastor’s son, Adams grew up in the church and went to Baylor University in Texas to study religion and Spanish in 2016. He wanted to go into youth ministry.

He said from the moment he started at Baylor, he was working with students, be it through a local nonprofit, camp, or church.

After graduation, he worked as the assistant program director at a Waco, Texas nonprofit. He ran the afterschool program, working primarily with middle and high school students of color. From there, he came to North Carolina to attend Duke Divinity School. The church was still his calling.

While at Duke, he continued to work with students at a local nonprofit. But there, he said, he came to a realization.

“I just came to realize that church and nonprofit work is great and important,” he said. “But all of that work is extracurricular, or requires additional student buy-in.”

He realized that he could, instead, become a public school teacher and see students every day.

“I would already be embedded in the systems that they are a part of,” Adams said.

He changed his degree so that he could wrap up his program in the divinity school. Now, a teacher at Orange High School in Orange County Schools, Adams gets to do what he does best: Develop relationships with students.

“I think approachability really goes a long way for both personal and academic success,” he said.

Adams was named the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2022 Prudential NC Beginning Teacher of the Year on Feb. 17.

NCCAT Executive Director M. Brock Womble said in a press release that Adams is a great example of “what it means to be a teacher.”

“Not only is he committed to teaching — he inspires his students to learn,” Womble said.

For his part, Adams said in an interview that the honor feels like appreciation for the work that he does. He also says that with his personal focus on equity, the honor feels like an acknowledgement that equity work is good.

And he said that winning the award is the culmination not just of his work, but of the work and relationships he has developed with so many others, including his own youth pastor, professors from college, and his students.

“When I think about my students, they’re in this award,” he said.

And when his students think about him, they don’t think of Mr. Adams. That’s because he insists they call him Mr. Xavier.

At 27, Adams said that some of his students have siblings older than him, and he isn’t going to expect them to come to class and start treating him as a parent figure. But he said his laid-back demeanor with students shouldn’t be confused with him having low expectations. He said he holds his students to a high standard, but also wants them to know that they have an ally in him.

“I recognize that many students are often enduring hardships that they might not always share with adults, yet they are still carrying these burdens with them as they navigate discovering their identities, completing their homework, and trying to find their group in school,” Adams wrote in his application for the award, according to the press release. “I hope they learn that I am here to support them.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.