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Perspective | What North Carolina’s Regional Teachers of the Year want you to know

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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the January 14, 2023 episode of Education Matters: “A Discussion with NC Regional Teachers of the Year.”

For this Final Word our 2022 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teachers of the Year shared what they wish for people to know about public education.

Clinton Todd, Northeast North Carolina 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year, Pitt County:

I would want our audience to know that our most underrepresented populations have value and worth, and there’s so much potential there if we just invest and take that time and energy and place it in the places where it’s most important. And I feel that those populations together have a value that has really not been … we have yet to have the ability or the drive beyond just us wanting to do better. We haven’t had the structures in place for us to be able to do better in every situation. And so I think that our kids have a lot to offer and I would like to see them have the ability to be themselves and to know that that’s amazing.

Ashtyn Berry, Southwest North Carolina 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year, Cabarrus County:

I think there’s room for duality. I’m going to quote Dr. Graham again, and I’m going to say that the issues that the general public is seeing with public education are systemic and structural. However, it is so, so important to look at schools and speak about schools through an asset-based lens right now. Otherwise, this issue of retaining teachers and recruiting teachers is not going to get better.

Keegan Storrs, North Carolina 2022 Charter School Teacher of the Year:

I think that something that a lot of people in the general public maybe don’t know a teacher as an adult, of course, we all knew teachers as children, but as an adult, maybe don’t know just how much time teachers put in behind the scenes. You mentioned earlier a lot of teachers put in 60 hours. I remember some years, especially when I was starting out teaching, I was putting 80, 90, 95 hours in including days on the weekends. And I just wish that people would appreciate how much teachers do behind the scenes that they and the students never get to see. And I think that plays into something that’s been on my mind recently, which is that right during and immediately following Covid, people had just such a huge appreciation, not only for teachers but administrators, support staff, and cafeteria staff because we realized how fundamental schools were to the functioning of our entire society. And I would love for us to get to a place where we feel that appreciation and see those connections and the sacrifice of every member of our school teams every single day.

Elizabeth Santamour, Sandhills North Carolina 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year, Hoke County:

I think that it’s important that people know that we don’t want to work in isolation. We want every stakeholder to be involved. We want our leadership to support what’s happening in the classroom. We want families to be aware of what we’re teaching, how we’re teaching it, how they can help at home, and stakeholders in the community. We benefit so greatly from not just donations, but people that are professionals coming in and teaching our kids their skillset. And then also just knowing that we’re being supported and that people care about our school … every time I see a school I’m like, “Oh my gosh, a school.” And I just want to know everything that’s happening inside of it. And if everyone would drive by a school and think the same thing, then imagine the positive emphasis that could be placed on a school and on educators.

And then my second thing is something that I tell people all the time, teachers and educators are human beings too. So it is so hard because we are expected to put our grief aside, to put our personal feelings aside, to put our struggles, our bad mornings, our car not starting, whatever it is, we put it aside and we walk into a classroom and we love kids and we want to do right by kids. And so if people realize that our heart is in it and we are working so hard to move our kids, then they might show us a little grace. As you mentioned, during the pandemic we were afforded that grace, but we need that all the time. Everybody needs that. So just making sure everyone knows that we are human beings and that as hard as we work and as resilient as we look, we definitely need that love and support.

Ryan Mitchell, West North Carolina 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year, Henderson County:

So there’s a lot of talk about learning loss and deficits and it’s important to have that asset-minded mindset, like Ashton said. But I want the public to know that we are working. We are working. I have been to a bunch of schools as a part of this opportunity as a teacher of the year, and in every school I go in, our teachers are working so hard. I’m here at school right now and I am not the last car in the parking lot. And that is not something that’s unique to my school. So trust us, work with us. Let’s be partners in the educational process, and let’s do what’s best for kids.

Leah Carper, 2022 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Piedmont Triad North Carolina 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year, Guilford County:

I want the public to know that everything we do has everything to do with the children, has nothing to do with us … It’s about your kids and we’re working extra hours. We’re spending less time with our families. We’re making huge sacrifices because we care about your kid, because we think about your kids on the weekends. We think about what will happen to your kids. I wrote 30 college admission letters this year and I don’t even have classes this year. We’re writing them these letters. We want them to succeed. And everything that we do as professionals is in the hope that we’re leading them towards a path where they can find the success that they want. We want them to actualize their potential. And so we’re working for your kids.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.