UCPS Teacher of the Year finalists share what led them to teach

Apr. 09, 2013 @ 04:33 PM

In the Union County Public Schools system, each of the system’s 53 schools select one teacher to represent their school as the Teacher of the Year. The school winners are celebrated at their school when they are named and then are recognized at the Annual Teacher of the Year banquet when the new UCPS Teacher of the Year is named in the spring of the year.

Each of the 53 school Teachers of the Year are invited to compete for the district title. The first step in the journey is the completion of a portfolio that includes seven essays. The essays ask the teachers to share their beliefs with regards to Community Involvement, Philosophy of Teaching, Educational Issues and Trends, the Teaching Profession, and the message they would convey if selected as the North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

A five-person district committee individually reviews and scores the portfolios. The 20 teachers receiving the highest scores are named as Semi-Finalists. Each of the 20 semi-finalists is invited to participate in a formal interview with a second district committee that includes the current UCPS Teacher of the Year and the current UCPS Principal of the Year.

The 10 teachers with the highest combined scores from the portfolio and interview are recognized as finalists. A third district committee observes the 10 finalists teaching in their classroom.

The 10 finalists for the 2013-2014 UCPS Teacher of the Year were asked to describe the factors that influenced them to become a teacher. Their responses are telling of how they rose to be so highly regarded by their peers.

Yvonne Allen, Sun Valley High Teacher of the Year
“While it may sound cliché, I did, in fact, always want to be a teacher: I lined my baby dolls up in makeshift desks and instructed them in the ways of the world. The first woman who influenced me to become a teacher was my eighth-grade English teacher, Ms. Mary Brooks, who taught me that great teachers know their learners. Ms. Brooks was funny and kind and accepted nothing less than the best. She knew that a great teacher must maximize her lessons so that each one of her students could succeed. Ms. Brooks varied her activities so that every learner had an opportunity to achieve, and I wanted to help others achieve.”

Amy Bilbao, Wesley Chapel Elementary Teacher of the Year
“I left my physical therapy career to become a ‘stay-at-home-mom’ for several years. Years later, when I was ready to re-enter the work force, I began to seriously contemplate my career options. I considered that a favorable aspect of physical therapy work had been educating my patients – I had spent a great deal of time teaching them about their disabilities, coping strategies, strengthening exercises, and daily living skills. I realized I had enjoyed serving in the role of an educator and I knew I wanted to continue working with a pediatric population. Very slowly then . . . it began to come to me . . . I should make a career out of teaching children.”

Kimberly Harris, Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts Teacher of the Year
“The three biggest factors that influenced me to go into education were: the fact that I loved working with children, my personal quest for learning just about everything that I can, and that my own primary and secondary educational experiences were neither interesting nor rewarding to me. As an adult, I have always found that to be distressing. By going into the field of education, I felt I could bring memorable, authentic, and meaningful lessons to my students. Even though I chose another field initially, I have always been sure education was for me.”

Alicia Moss, Rock Rest Elementary Teacher of the Year
“Teaching has been a dream of mine since childhood. My first recollection of school is the first grade at Union Elementary. My teacher was Mrs. Gennie Hargett. She had this extraordinary baby blue claw foot bathtub filled with books. As a reward she would let us get books from the ‘bath tub’ to read. I felt SOO special and wanted to make others feel the same about books and learning in general.”

Kelly Reigle, New Salem Elementary Teacher of the Year
“Throughout my childhood, I have continuously been interested in a variety of things that led me to the desire to become a teacher. I have always loved math and science, and I have always been a reader. I began to develop a deep appreciation of the humanities, and formed an interest in nonfiction writing by junior high school. By late high school, I found that I also enjoyed working with people in school clubs and groups. The final piece fell into place when I realized how much I loved working with children through the Big Buddy program in my high school and my job as a lifeguard. By my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I realized that there was no other career available in which I could do all the things I loved every day, and simultaneously inspire children to love knowledge as I do.”

Craig Retzlaff, Monroe Middle Teacher of the Year
“Pursuing a career in the field of education seemed eminent given my background. My father was a general music teacher at a middle school for 14 years, eventually devoting the remainder of his career to public school administration. His passion for shaping and changing the lives in a positive manner as well as influencing the next generation of youth impacted me greatly at an early age. I was constantly immersed in the daily topics, triumphs, setbacks, and constantly evolving issues of public education and feel proud to have followed in my father’s footsteps.”

Kerri Sofsian, Kensington Elementary Teacher of the Year
“I grew up in a small Minnesota town. There was very little to do, but that was never an issue. My mom introduced me to books at a very young age. Every Tuesday at 1:00 PM we’d wait for the bookmobile to pull up Main Street to bring us new adventures. Pippi, the girl with the silver eyes, Ramona, Nancy, Anastasia and the Ingalls family were all part of my inner circle and whisked me away with them on their escapades. That weekly ritual quickly grew me into the voracious reader and learner that I am today. It also fueled my passion to share that love of reading and learning with others, which ultimately led me to be the teacher I am today.”

Jessica Sutton, South Providence School Teacher of the Year
“Alright, class, let’s begin!” These are four of my favorite words to say. As a child I spoke them first to my stuffed animals, then later to my Barbies and even later to my best friend, Jerry, as I led class in the playroom of my childhood home. I have always been, and always will be a teacher, a guide for young people on their life’s journey. As a teen, I would watch the most gifted of my own teachers, impressed by their ability to take information that I didn’t really care about, and transform the classroom into a ‘think tank’ where we could discuss and debate and create.”

Miranda Thomas, Marvin Elementary Teacher of the Year
“I remember a teacher from the Union County Schools system that had a powerful impact on my life. Kathy Griffin was my third-grade teacher at Prospect Elementary School. She had an excitement for learning and teaching that was contagious. I remember telling Mrs. Griffin that I was going to be a teacher one day, too. At the end of the school year, she gave me worksheets, awards, stickers, assignments, etc., for me to ‘play school.’ I saved everything in a special box labeled ‘I love teaching!’ When I got my first teaching job in 1997, one of the first things I carried into my classroom was my special box. I am thankful for the wonderful teachers I experienced in Union County, and I am honored that I get to be a part of such an amazing place to work.”

Francy Zolke, East Union Middle Teacher of the Year
“As the daughter of two educators, I never wanted to be a teacher. I remember seeing my parents bring home stacks and stacks of papers to check and after they were done with those I remember how much time they spent preparing their classes. As a child I thought I didn’t want that for myself. It wasn’t until I started noticing people on the street getting out of their way to greet my mom or my dad. These strangers always looked so happy to see my parents even when my parents struggled to remember their names. No matter how long it had been since they had one of my parents as a teacher, they always remembered my parents with respect and gratitude.”

It is apparent that one of the biggest factors in these finalists’ lives, which led them into teaching, was an incredible teacher, or sometimes the lack of. It is also apparent that each strives to be an incredible teacher for their students.

The teacher with the highest combined score from the portfolio, interview, and observation will be named as the 20th Union County Public Schools Teacher of the Year at a banquet honoring all of the individual school Teachers of the Year.

-- This article was written by Rob Jackson, Union County Public Schools Community Relations and Communications Liaison and provided courtesy of the UCPS Communications Office.