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This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to show gratitude for the hard work of educators across the country. From kindergarten reading circles to high school science labs, more than 100,000 teachers work with students in North Carolina each day. This year, we asked teachers to nominate their colleagues so we could share the stories of their compassion, commitment, and dedication. Teachers, thank you for all you do for our students and our state.

Courtney Samuelson was an English major, loved the subject, and began her teaching career in English. She returned to school to obtain a masters in English Language Arts at North Carolina State University. Now Samuelson is a fifth grade teacher at Capitol Encore Academy in Fayetteville, instructing a classroom of students in all subjects, including math and science.

The change was a challenge. “I feel like a first year teacher all over again,” Samuelson said. 

The move to teach all of the core subjects made Samuelson realize the importance of ongoing coaching and support for teachers throughout their careers. “The reality is, especially when you switch subjects or different grade levels, you need a lot of support and you always have room to grow,” she said.

Samuelson is one of many teachers nominated by their colleagues for recognition during Teacher Appreciation Week through a ReachNC Voices survey. Samuelson’s principal, Angela McCall Hill, wrote of her influence beyond the classroom: “I believe one of the reasons she has a talent for finding quality in potential workforce members is due to her being such an outstanding educator herself. She holds herself to a high standard and never backs away from a challenge or opportunity.”

Throughout the week, EducationNC has highlighted the hard work and dedication of teachers across the state. Educators have a front row seat to the good work of their colleagues, so we called on them to nominate others who deserve praise. 

Shelley Townsend nominated her colleague Jodi Cook at New Market Elementary in Sophia, NC. Townsend wrote of Cook: “As her neighboring classroom teacher, I have watched her teach the most challenging students. With consistent classroom management, daily routines and well planned lessons, her students are equipped to meet individual and classroom goals. She knows the individual needs of each student, is incredibly organized, and differentiates rigorous lessons based on student data.”

Nominators shared their pride in the work of their colleagues at the high school level as well. Assistant Principal Elizabeth McGowan offered enthusiastic praise for history and civics teacher Nekia Cromity at Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, NC: 

 This teacher is amazing!!!! Ms. Cromity makes history relevant, exciting and when the students complete their courses with Ms. Cromity they are well prepared for what ever is next. She makes learning FUN!!!!!!!! even though the class is tough. We need more educators like Nekia Cromity.

One common thread of many of the nominations was how much an educator cares for his or her students. Kindergarten teacher Leslie Pritchett nominated her colleague at Lake Norman Elementary School in Mooresville, Sherry Morris. 

“She not only teaches her students academics, she makes each students feel special and loved,” Pritchett wrote. “Her joy in working with children is contagious!”

Teachers value the compassion and kindness of their colleagues, but they also understand the importance of diligence, consistency, and accountability. Bryan Christopher nominated a fellow teacher from Riverside High School, writing:

Mira Rahili is tough. When students are late to class, they get detention. If they do a poor job on an assignment, she makes them do it again. If they show disrespect, she pulls them aside and addresses it. If they give her a hug, she tells them to sit down and get to work. She also arrives early, stays late and attends her students’ games, performances and dances at night. She works tirelessly to improve her own practices, sets high expectations and holds her students and colleagues accountable so they can be at their best every day. And Riverside High School (Durham, NC) loves her for it.

For Rahili, a sense of safety — physical, intellectual and emotional — is vital in her classroom. “I want them to feel safe to express who they are, their beliefs — whether I agree with them or not,” Rahili said. “I want them to feel like there is an adult in their lives that cares about all the things they care about.”

Rahili teaches English to a wide range of high school students, and she wants every one to understand his or her worth. “For 90 minutes everyday… I want my kids to feel safe and appreciated and valued for who they are —  whether they are good at English or not, whether they are struggling to be here everyday or they are an AP student that is headed to Harvard.”

Mira Rahili instructs a student at Riverside High School.

“Teaching is not glorified babysitting,” she said. “We are meeting the most amazing human beings, and we are not just keeping your kids while you’re at work. We are not monitoring to make sure they are living and breathing… we are trying to teach them to be great, wonderful people and they are slowly turning into that.”

But a lack of resources can hinder her work, Rahili said. “It is really hard to craft wonderful, helpful, kind human beings when you are lacking foundational resources.”

For the thousands of teachers across the state, helping to create more wonderful, kind human beings is what motivates them to get up early and stay at school late. A parent, writing about Tanya Sams, a third grade teacher at York Elementary School in Raleigh, summarized what many parents hope for their child’s teacher: “Mrs. Sams loves her students and they know it and love her right back. At the end of the day, that is what all parents want for their children; to be loved while at school.”

Laura Lee

Laura Lee is the former content director and managing editor for EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

Born and raised in Union County, North Carolina, Laura attended Benton Heights Elementary School, Unionville Elementary School, Charlotte Latin Middle School, and Piedmont High School. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked as an educator with a civic education organization and then as a program administrator for two Fulbright grant programs.

She received her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007. In law school, she served as president of the Student Bar Association and was a Davis Society inductee. She also holds a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Laura briefly strayed from her Tar Heel allegiance in 2011 to obtain a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland where she was an Eleanor Merrill Fellow. She then worked at NPR producing content for the Washington desk, All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation

From 2013 to 2017, Laura oversaw daily production of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC’s The State of Things, first as assistant news director for talk programming and then as managing editor.