Concerns and Calls to Action from NC Teachers of the Year ::

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “final word” from the January 22, 2022 show on Education Matters: “Discussion with North Carolina’s Regional Teachers of the Year – Part 2”. Wolf is President and Executive Director of the North Carolina Public Schools Forum.

Each week on Education Matters, Dr. Mary Ann Wolf offers a “final word” of commentary on the state of North Carolina’s public schools. This week, as we collectively face another very difficult time in our schools, in our communities, and across our country, we raise the voices of the incredible educators in our state. Here are the words of five of our 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Regional Teachers of the Year. Hear their concerns, their words of motivation for fellow teachers and their communities, and their calls to action. We heard from the other Regional Teachers of the Year last week.

Erin Ellington, 2021 Northwest North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year, Watauga County:

“I’m fortunate to teach at Mabel and Parkway Schools here in Watauga County. I teach K-8 music, so I see almost everyone at both of my schools. Just two quick tips, one for families and one for educators.
“Families: We can’t do it without you, even if it means a one-line email thanking a teacher for something, even if it means a “hey” in the carpool line – I see you. We broadcast so much to the world and sometimes you don’t know what’s going on or if something is happening to someone, and so just those tiny little things make a huge difference. Families, thank you, thank you, thank you for your support.
“Educators: Before this role, I had no idea anything about politics and decision-making, but I had a lot of complaints about the decisions that were made. And so, even if it’s a lot of extra work, even if it’s kind of something you have to learn yourself — find a way to engage with your legislators, invite them into your class, invite- them in your schools, invite them to your neighborhood.”

Susanna Cerrato, 2021 Western North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year, City of Asheville Schools:

“As a third grade teacher, I have my professional learning community and sometimes I forget that I have a responsibility to stand up for anything outside of those four walls. I think as teachers and honestly as families, I say this as a first-time parent myself, I think it makes more sense and comfort to stay on your path and advocate for yourself and your students. But something that being part of this group [of NC Regional Teachers of the Year] given to me both personally and professionally is the gift of collective advocacy and the power to come together as one and see how far that unified voice can go.

“I think I would like to urge educators not to be afraid to become that advocate because we are the ones who know how the legislation affects our classrooms and our students. We are the ones who know what lower pay does to our communities and our ability to serve in the community we live in. We know how these things impact education – so I would like to encourage educators to take every opportunity to be an advocate beyond your classrooms and four walls. Get to know your school board, look for opportunities to organize in your school building. Things start locally – and change happens locally – and teachers have so much power when they find a group with whom they can plead.

Cece Sizoo-Roberson, 2021 Southwest North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

“Every teacher needs a group of people who support them, push them and challenge them – and who agree with them and then disagree with them. I think too often we surround ourselves with people who think like us and we’re just talking to ourselves and we’re not challenged.

“You need to find yourself a group of smart, passionate educators and you need to stay in touch with them because in times when you don’t want to be passionate anymore, all it takes is a text to one of these people and your fuel Every teacher needs this – and you can’t be the best for your kids if you don’t have it for yourself, so go ahead and find people and don’t make people out of them who will support you in your moments of negativity into people who will get you out of it.”

Jen Attkisson, 2021 Northeast North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year, Edenton-Chowan Schools:

“I teach first grade at White Oak Elementary in Edenton in the freshman class. You find joy every day and that happiness to come back from our break and the love I felt in those four walls have been amazing and that’s part of what fills my cup.

“Look for educators, look for the passionate people in your building and in your neighborhood and even in your area, find people who uplift you and challenge you to make a change. This group here, our [Regional Teachers of the Year] had an incredible influence on me personally and professionally. I think we’ve been a true example of how a network can really work across our state to reach every child in North Carolina.

“It’s been enlightening both personally and professionally and even within my class, my kids when I tell them we have something coming up, ‘oh you’re going to work with your teacher friends who live somewhere else in North Carolina’ , and we found it on the map and it’s just wonderful, it’s been an eye opener for me to see how things work in other parts of the state, which also helps me serve better where I am.

“I think it’s important for all teachers to have this narrative of what education is like in our state.”

Jeremy White, Charter School North Carolina 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year, West Lake Preparatory Academy:

“As we go through the pandemic, I have always come with the four agreements – which is to do your best, to be impeccable with your words, to take nothing personal and not to assume.

“I think we, as teachers, as a community and as parents, need to get out of this mindset of ‘these kids’, ‘these parents’, ‘these teachers’. When everyone everyone succeeds, when everyone from everywhere succeeds, we all succeed. There is no competition, I don’t worry about having better scores in reading than my teammate, if my teammate brings his children where they have to be, it’s great for me, it’s great for my kids, it’s great for me to learn.”

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