With June 8 just around the corner — the last day of school — students and teachers are looking forward to a summer break. To seasoned teaching veterans, this may have been just another school year. To some first year teachers, however, this was a year to be remembered.
Heather Knotts, 23, started off her teaching career with third graders at East Rockingham Elementary.
She said she’ll never forget a recent, heartwarming moment in one of her classes.
“We were reading the book ‘Because of Winn Dixie,’ and the students were assigned to pick a person who’s important to them and make a list of 10 things they were thankful for — about that person,” said Knotts. “One of my students made the list about me, and gave it to me in front of the whole class!”
Knotts said that, going into her first year of teaching, she was worried about classroom management and behavior problems.
“I just didn’t have any problems,” she said. “I tried to be very consistent and reward them for the good things they did.”
Knotts never had a burning desire to teach, but when a fellow student she used to tutor told her she’d make a good teacher she decided it might be something she should pursue. After tutoring peers during high school, Knotts went on to get her degree from UNC Pembroke, and is currently working on her master’s.
Now she’s convinced that she made the right career choice.
“I had a student who cried every day last year, and never wanted to come to school,” said Knotts. “His mom told me that for the first time ever he likes school this year. That makes me feel like I’ve done something right and made a difference.”
Barbie Wall, 39, decided to pursue teaching after realizing that her life-long love of children could be turned into a successful career.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, at church and through volunteering, and I’ve always really had a heart for kids with special needs,” said Wall.
Wall said that she understood that everyone learns differently, and she wanted the opportunity to help exceptional children believe that they can learn too.
Wall received her degree from NC Central University, and now teaches sixth through eighth grades at Rohanen Middle School.
“There have been challenges this year, but the successes are what keep me going,” she said. “I had a student pass the EOG (End of Grade test), which was a huge barrier to overcome.”
She said consistency, motivation and learning to communicate with each child as an individual have been her greatest tools this year.
“My kids have special needs, and other teachers tell me they don’t know how I do this every day,” said Wall. “I think you do have to have a special kind of patience to love this. It’s a learning process though, getting to know what each child needs as an individual.”
Wall was nominated as the Rohanen Teacher Leader of the Month by teachers and staff at the school.
“As a new teacher, that says something great to me,” she said.
Andi Gardner, 22, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and returned to her old school as a faculty member this school year, teaching seventh graders at Rockingham Middle.
“Some of the teachers I work with now used to be my teachers,” said Gardner. “I was nervous that they wouldn’t take me seriously but they have welcomed me and made me feel really important.”
Gardner said she’s always been terribly shy, and was nervous about taking charge of a big group of seventh graders.
“I think they could tell I was nervous on the first day,” she said. “By the end of the first week, it started to feel like my classroom — I began to feel like a ‘real’ teacher.”
One interesting moment from her first year really stands out to Gardner.
“One of my classes had very bad behavior one day,” she recalled. “I decided to just sit down with them and explain that teachers are people too. I told them how much time I spend outside of work — doing things to help them succeed. I almost got choked up when I was talking to them, but it was a good conversation. I know some people say you aren’t supposed to tell the students how you feel, but it worked — I never had any more problems from them after that.”
Gardner said this first year teaching was different than she expected, but successful.
“I’ve already started my planning for next year,” she said. “I’m so ready. I have so many great ideas, and I keep them all written in a notebook. I can’t wait for next year to begin.”
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com.