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Teachers of the year look forward to the start of school

At a recent State Board of Education meeting, the North Carolina teachers of the year were honored by the Board and Superintendent Mark Johnson as they embark on a year of traveling around the state and being a voice for teachers statewide. 

EducationNC caught up with some of them and asked them to talk about what they’re most excited for in this coming year, and what they’re anxious about. 

Samone Graham (Photo courtesy of DPI)

Samone Graham, a Mooresville High School teacher representing the Southwest Region of the state, kicked things off by talking about the influence the teachers are going to have on the state. 

“I’m excited about getting the voices of the regional teachers out, and how we’re going to impact the state of North Carolina,” she said. 

Freebird McKinney, the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Teacher of the Year from the Piedmont-Triad Region of the state, explained that the teachers of the year got together and decided on a shared platform to advocate for. 

The main themes the teachers want to touch upon are teacher recruitment and retention, equitable access to education for all students, and global education and cultural immersion for teachers and students. 

Cameron Gupton (Photo courtesy of DPI)

Cameron Gupton, a Greene Early College High School teacher representing the Southeast Region of the state, chimed in on his enthusiasm for being an advocate. 

“I’m … excited about all the opportunities that we’re getting as regional teachers of the year … to go out and advocate for teachers in the region,” he said. “I’m just ready to go out and be a mouthpiece for teachers in my area.” 

Lindsey Sise, a West Hoke Middle School teacher representing the Sandhills/South Central Region of the state, said that the regional teachers of the year are a force to reckon with. 

Lindsey Sise ((Photo courtesy of DPI)

“Our vision and our goals are just going to blossom and explode,” she said. 

Lisa Wall, a Burke Middle College teacher representing the Northwest Region of the state, said she’s most excited about working with some beginning teachers in her county in the upcoming year. 

Lisa Wall (Photo courtesy of DPI)

“I’ve not had a lot of time to do that, and I’m really excited about getting a chance to pour into those new professionals and give them some enthusiasm about what I am excited about with teaching and education,” she said.

Kaley Kiffner, a Perquimans County Middle School teacher representing the Northeast Region of the state, said she is excited about the chance to help with teacher recruitment and retention in particular in her new role. 

Kaley Kiffner (Photo courtesy of DPI)

“It’s really important that we not only grow but help our new teachers continue their love and understand how important they are in this profession,” she said.

While some teachers talked big picture about what they hope to do as teachers of the year, others also talked about the more personal excitement they have for the coming year. 

Gupton was just excited to get back and see his kids. 

“They’re in my heart. They’re like my kids. I’m only 27 and I don’t have children,” he said. “They are like my children. So I’m excited to get back in there and work with them. Of course, that’s what it’s all about.”

Sise said she’s excited for the teaching. 

“Just trying to come up with the next big thing. The next great lesson. The next wow moment. I just want to keep it exciting for them,” she said. 

When talking about their worries for the coming year, many of the teachers discussed their anxiety about not having enough time. 

“Having enough time to do all of the things that are needed, to be there for students, to be part of the regional team and get the word out for advocacy, and just doing everything well,” Wall said. 

“What keeps me up at night?” Gupton asked. “Well just ensuring that all students have an equitable education in North Carolina.  Ensuring equality in all of our school districts around the state.” 

Freebird McKinney (Photo courtesy of DPI)

McKinney said he was sad because being the state teacher of the year means he won’t get to teach for the next school year. However, he said he has been able to work out a deal where he can return every Monday so he can still be connected to his school and his students. 

“That’s the only time that I’ll have daily interaction with my students,” he said. 

Graham said there are so many opportunities around the state and she is just anxious to get started. She has a message she wants to spread.

“Most teachers in North Carolina are dedicated teachers who are hitting the ground running with making sure their kids come first and they’re building relationships in the classroom, and we just want to make sure the state knows that,” she said. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.