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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. To nominate a teacher for recognition, please complete the short survey below. Teachers, thank you for all you do for our students and our state.

Jarin Wooten doesn’t remember meeting another black, male kindergarten teacher ever in his whole life. Wooten teaches kindergarten at Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte.

“Call me crazy,” Wooten says with a smile, “but I fought to teach kindergarten.” He sees himself as a “habit shaper,” noting the responsibility of being his students first teacher.

Wooten attended Southern Pines Elementary School growing up, and he remembers his kindergarten teacher Miss McDougall and his first grade teacher Miss Nocton. “Teaching kind of chose me,” he says, as he reflects on the importance of the impact his teachers had on him.

“Of course I was terrified,” says Wooten of teaching kindergarten. “But I am in love with it.” He says the kids come to school every day “alive, vibrant,” and his job is to match their energy.

All 22 children in Wooten’s class are children of color. One of 18 black, male educators at the school, he says relatability is an asset. “I come from a similar background,” Wooten says. “All the obstacles they see, I know those obstacles. I’ve actually physically lived them.”

“Not all kids go home to cookies, milk, and a hug.”

Wooten’s own experience, he says, gives him a deeper understanding of his students, allowing him to empathize. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he says.

Wooten wants to broaden the world for his students. Pointing to a map, he describes the day they realized there was a world beyond Charlotte, a state, and then an ocean, and other lands even farther away like Egypt. “They get so amazed,” Wooten says. “The world is so huge, and there are so many things for them to go and do and see.”

Wooten wants his students to have a broader understanding of the world of work too. “I am going to expose them to as much as I can,” he says, “jobs beyond athletics and entertainment. They look at me and think, ‘maybe I can be a teacher.'”

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.