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Perspective | Messages from North Carolina’s Regional Teachers of the Year

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Jan. 15, 2022 broadcast of Education Matters: “A Discussion with NC Regional Teachers of the Year.” 

Each week on Education Matters, we offer a “Final Word,” from our host, Dr. Mary Ann Wolf, offering commentary on the state of our public schools. This week, as we collectively face another very challenging time in our schools, in our communities, and across our nation, we want to lift up the voices of some of our state’s amazing educators.

Please take a moment to read the words of our 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Regional Teachers of the Year. Hear their concerns, their words of motivation for their fellow teachers and communities, and their calls to action.

Eugenia Floyd, 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year, North Central Region Teacher of the Year, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

To the leaders of North Carolina, both the legislative leaders or the leaders within the field of education, I invite you to my classroom, I invite you to the classrooms of North Carolina, I invite you to follow and watch our teachers working hard across the state giving their absolute best, swallowing their own personal struggles, their own personal sacrifices, and putting it all on the table for kids each and every day.

We want you to see what’s going on, we want you to be there with us so that you have an even greater understanding of what we’re experiencing — the joys and even some of the things that are needed as well. When I think about my community, we know that the school is the pivotal point, it is the place where everything can happen for our community, where everything begins; what is going to become a business, or who is going to become the future educators of our community. It is a critical place, and for my community and for our business owners and our mayors, and all of our public officials, I also encourage you to show up as well. Schools are places that you are investing in. I want you to bring your genius into my classroom and I want you to tell kids how great your job is. Every child in North Carolina and in the United States has a right to see themselves in their education and in their curriculum and they also have the right to be able to have opportunities to see what they could be. I invite all of my community partners, business leaders, and everybody to come to the school. Lastly to my educators, I want educators to always and forever remember who you work for, you don’t work for anyone else but children. And I don’t even think I need to say anything after that. You do what is best for the children in that classroom.

Nicole Rivers, Sandhills North Carolina 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year, Cumberland County Schools

I teach English at Gray’s Creek High School in Cumberland County Schools. I teach 11th graders and I love it — and I love them. One thing that I want people to know is that if we all want change, then we have to place this demand on society — and we have to place this  demand on every part of it, not just one part. So for teachers, we’ve had a lot of demands put on us over the years for the well-being of our students and we’ve done the best we can to meet those demands. Every time that bar is raised higher, we stretch to reach it.

As parents — and I have children in the public school system — what am I doing to support my students and their teachers and help them learn what they need to learn? I have to put a demand on myself as a parent because it’s not just the job of the teachers to educate my child, that is my primary job as well. As businesses, we are growing their future workers. Are businesses pouring into students by opening up internships and opening up opportunities and helping us take the classrooms out of the four walls by opening up their doors and their industry so our kids have exposure? Are we putting these demands on every part of our society? Because every part of our society benefits from well-educated, well-rounded, whole, healthy and socially and emotionally balanced children. Every part of our society owes our students something, and so we need to put a demand on ourselves and on everyone else to say hey, let’s get together and let’s do what we can to help our children.

Kelly Poquette, Piedmont Triad North Carolina 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year, Alamance-Burlington School System

For parents, I want you to know that we love your children, and I think almost more than that, we respect your children and in turn we love and respect you. Just know that we are here for your children and we are here for you — and if you have questions, ask us! We want to find out how we can best support your student, because your student’s success is our community’s success— and, is our state’s success. Just remember that we are on the same team and we are working together to build a community.

Jennie Bryan, Southeastern North Carolina 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year, Brunswick County Schools

This is speaking to those folks who might be looking for a career change or might be looking to start a career —  come join us, come work alongside us! Even if it doesn’t look like going to get your teaching license, maybe it looks like becoming a substitute, or a volunteer in your child’s classroom. Partner with us — we would welcome you with open arms into this really important work that we do.

Public School Forum of North Carolina

Since 1986, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has been an indispensable and nonpartisan champion of better schools and the most trusted source in the state for research and analysis on vital education issues. We bring together leaders from business, education, and government to study education issues, develop ideas, seek consensus, and ultimately inform and shape education policy. We do that through research, policy work, innovative programs, advocacy, and continuing education for educators and policymakers.