As an educator, it is imperative to teach the importance of sustainable communities in all areas, including our own profession. North Carolina continues to face political challenges and uncertainty in public education, so teachers and administrators have had to learn resilience to sustain our confidence and belief in the “system.” It is our responsibility to teach our students the importance of establishing communities by instilling the qualities of becoming a productive citizen in society. Since I now work closely with future teachers, I emphasize the unique communities established within the school and classroom walls. I remind them that one of the main incentives to working in a school is the establishment of community among colleagues, administrators, families and students that is not usually found in other work settings.
I have been fortunate to have been part of several school communities throughout my teaching career starting with my teacher preparation at Appalachian State and with my most recent teaching assignment on Ocracoke Island. While obtaining my bachelors degree at Appalachian, I was part of the Teaching Fellows Community that had a positive influence on my life from the enrichment activities and the strong network that is formed among future educators. Even though this program was eliminated in 2011, I am proud that my alma mater has sustained the foundation of this program with continued support, service, and leadership opportunities for future teachers. I remain humbled to now work with these students through the James Center for Appalachian Educators and ACES.
If one walks into my office, the collage of class pictures lining the back wall is always noticed first. Each class photo serves as a reminder of the community that was built each year and the lessons learned would be sustained in years to come, both for the students and myself. Each special face in the frames still have a purposeful meaning because I can remember their special roles in our community from their stories, acceptance, leadership, and growth. The timeline on the wall from Asheboro City, Montgomery County, Chatham County, and Hyde County also emphasize the families and colleagues that contributed to this community. The hours of meeting with PLC’s to analyze assessment data and planning curriculum to meet the needs of all students. The in-depth discussions with administrators about effective changes to school culture. The creative planning of fundraising to ensure students received the opportunities to truly experience the standards AND the world around them. The memories of the hard work to sustain these communities can be overwhelming, but definitely empowering.
Similar to my teaching career, I believe in providing future teachers experiences that will impact their lives forever. Whether if is sharing my own personal stories from the classroom or taking them to New York City. I will never forget taking my 13 fourth grade students on a field trip of a lifetime from the sea to the mountains. Of course, the adventure of riding 1200 miles on an activity bus from Ocracoke to Cherokee (and back again) is definitely unforgettable, but the community that was built prior to the trip is the most memorable because of the numerous hours spent together planning this trip. It is not a typical fundraiser selling chicken legs at a Blackbeard Pirate Jamboree and hosting “Are you Smarter than a 4th Grader?” at the local sports restaurant. Can’t forget the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Delivery (on foot and bicycle), Parisian Lunch, Hot dog and authentic Mexican food dinners, and even candles sold during the holidays.
Those students worked diligently to reach their goal and the rewards were life changing—walking on 4 college campuses, touring the Biltmore House, listening to stories told from the Cherokee, watching Durham Bulls Game, understanding how a parking meter works in downtown Asheville, and riding their first escalator in the UNC-Chapel Hill bookstore. Before leaving the island, I met with the new fourth grade teacher to share about this amazing experience and encouraged her to keep this tradition. I was thrilled to see pictures on her class social media page of their travels across the state.
This is what I hope to provide our college students through the NYC Study Away program, an experience that they work toward while changing their lives forever.