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Education angels

I wonder at times if others think, as I do, that none of the accomplishments I am most grateful for in my life could ever have been achieved without the people on whose shoulders I stood. As an educator, I have been beyond blessed with many education angels along my journey.

My own first grade teacher, Mrs. Terrie Evans, taught me how to read. I remember being so proud to bring home Buffy and Mack. Mrs. Evans eventually became a principal. After I graduated from college with a degree in education, I contacted her. I wanted to be a teacher at her school. Mrs. Evans took a chance- not just on a first year teacher, but also a former student. I have shared this story with my students many times and remind them they should be on their best behavior because they never know who they may be asking for a job one day! I am still a teacher, 18 years later, at the school where my own first grade teacher hired me.

During the year I was a student in Mrs. Evans’s first grade class, she had an angel of a teaching assistant. Mrs. Margaret Johnson and I still keep in touch. She and I used to write letters back and forth, and she would even come visit me at my house sometimes when I was still in elementary school. She continues to encourage me, and when I presented at the teacher assistant conference last year, she attended almost every session of mine even though the information was the same each time! She told everyone “our story.”

Looking back, it is funny how life works sometimes. My second grade teacher’s husband was my superintendent for almost half of my teaching career. Dr. Bill Harrison often told me he was proud of me as a new teacher, and he still does even though he is the superintendent of another district. I recently received a thoughtful email from him sharing how proud he and Mrs. Harrison are of me. A few words of encouragement can make a huge difference to someone, as his have to me.

I would have never guessed that I would end up babysitting the children of my own third grade teacher! Diane Thorne was the apple of my eye as an eight-year-old child. I thought she was beautiful, smart, and fun. My heart was broken when she got married and moved to Georgia. Who would have known our paths would cross again, and I would babysit her children? I remember a time during my first year of teaching when Mrs. Thorne visited me in my very own classroom. She was escorted to my room by Mrs. Evans! I could not have been more nervous to have two of my own teachers observe my teaching. Yet, their support helped pave the way for me as a teacher. My classroom never looked like I was a new teacher because Mrs. Thorne shared so much of her school collection with me.

Many teachers encouraged me along the way when I was a student, as I hope I do for the children I am blessed to work with each day. Within the school where I teach, I have had the privilege to form some of my closest friendships. Mr. Don Flynn has since passed away but was my first friend when I became a teacher at my school. He was hands down the best substitute teacher ever and a true Southern gentleman.

One of my best friends and I still laugh about our first meeting. Lisa Popish served as my mentor for my first three years of teaching. During our first meeting, I didn’t know she was my mentor. As she began reviewing items for discussion, I said “Are you my mentor?” It was reminiscent of the Are You My Mother? children’s book so we still laugh about it. For my entire teaching career, she has been both my colleague and friend. Renee Burke, my former teaching assistant, finished her degree and continues to enrich the lives of children every day in her own classroom. I couldn’t be more grateful to have met some of my best friends through this gift we call teaching.

My principal now, Charla Trogdon, as well as my former principal, Cal Violette, have always provided encouraging words for me. Mrs. Trogdon has a part-time job simply completing recommendations I ask her to write for me as I apply to various grants or fellowships. Anne McFayden and Dr. Theresa Perry, who continue to work within our district, have been amazing examples of kindness and professionalism throughout my career as a teacher. Elaine Duff will tell the story differently, but I couldn’t have passed National Boards without her.

World View, a program through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been pivotal in my love for global education. A huge thank you goes to Carina Brossy, Julie Kinnaird, and all of the staff at World View.

Because the LEED staff at East Carolina University were willing to give me a chance, I am now working toward my Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership.  I am not the typical candidate, but they didn’t let that stop them from giving me an opportunity. In particular, I have Dr. Tom Williams and Dr. Art Rouse to thank for believing in me. Thank you to all my teachers and professors who do not always see the rules as black and white and who are willing to take a chance on someone with dreams.

Outside of my school and district, I have many education angels. Two years ago, I became a part of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund family. Being a recipient of the Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers has been life changing, yet there is so much more to it than the award that has blessed my life. When I ask questions, which is often, they answer me readily. When I have asked permission for some “out of the box” ideas, they have supported me. Not only am I supported, I am encouraged to be innovative and creative. When I needed help, I received support from Burroughs Wellcome Fund in ways my imagination could not have anticipated. I can say with complete confidence, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and Mr. Alfred Mays in particular, are education angels. Mr. Mays may look a little intimidating on first meeting, but he is one of the biggest advocates I have ever had in my career. He spends his time actually helping teachers be their best. When I received a Fulbright fellowship, I was most grateful, yet I had some barriers to work through. Mr. Mays took those barriers and crushed them. I am participating in a Fulbright fellowship with support because of Mr. Alfred Mays.  

One of my favorite things as a child was to go into Waldenbooks at Cross Creek Mall. I would breathe in the smell of the books and instantly be happy. My mom and dad, my biggest supporters, have encouraged my love of reading my entire life. I am sure they could have done many things for themselves, but instead they chose to invest in me. Without their sacrifices, I would never be the teacher or person I am. I hope I make them proud. When children love to read and rush home from school just to play school, as I did, someone is doing their job well “at the schoolhouse,” as people say in the South. I was made to feel safe at school, teachers supported me, and I even appreciate when people have told me I couldn’t do something because that has encouraged me all the more. Thank you to all of my education angels. There are many more not listed here but who have etched a place in my heart. It is all possible because you believed in me.

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and forgiving heart, one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.” -Marvin Ashton

Andi Webb

Andi Webb is a teacher and mathematics coach at Alderman Road Elementary in Fayetteville. She is National Board Certified and is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership through East Carolina University. She is a Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers grant recipient through Burroughs Wellcome Fund.