Married couple in running for Wake’s top-teacher award

03/03/2014 7:14 AM

03/05/2014 8:07 AM

Every morning, Emily and Brian Quigley leave their Raleigh home and head to their teaching jobs on different sides of Wake County. When they get home each evening, sometimes after working second jobs, they talk a lot about school.

The Quigleys, who got married in 2010, are both among the 26 semifinalists for Wake’s Teacher of the Year award.

And they’re both second-grade teachers – Emily at Holly Springs Elementary, Brian at Lockhart Elementary in Knightdale.

When they found out they were in the running for the award, they felt a sense of good-natured competition, they said.

“Now I think we’re just happy for each other,” Emily said.

It’s unclear if a married couple has ever been nominated for the award the same year. Stella Shelton, a spokeswoman for Wake schools, said she can’t recall such a situation in her 20 years with the school system.

Last year’s Teacher of the Year winner, Luke Miles, teaches at Durant Road Middle School in Raleigh with his wife, Caroline.

Emily and Brian Quigley, both 28, said being married to a fellow teacher has some perks. They know all about the ups and downs of working in a classroom.

“We can relate to each other,” Brian said. “You know the right thing to say.”

But the Quigleys have also had to face the financial realities of a career in education.

They moved to Wake County in 2008 after graduating with bachelor’s degrees from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. They said they both earn the salaries of first-year teachers, never having gotten a raise.

In Wake, a new teacher earns about $35,000 a year.

“You don’t expect that when you come down and buy a house and expect to start a family,” Brian said.

Both have taken on second jobs. Emily works the after-school program at Holly Springs Elementary, and Brian coaches football and track at Apex Middle School.

“I think that if something doesn’t change in the next couple years, one of us at least will have to leave the profession,” Emily said.

Changes might be on the way. Gov. Pat McCrory announced plans in February to raise the base pay for early-career teachers.

Meanwhile, Emily said she doesn’t think teacher tenure should be eliminated in exchange for $500-a-year raises.

“I don’t think it’s worth it,” she said.

While their careers are often a main topic in politics, the Quigleys said they simply enjoy teaching.

At Holly Springs Elementary, Emily trains other teachers in technology, said assistant principal Gail Zadell.

“She’s outstanding, and she’s got a great personality,” Zadell said. “She works well with parents.”

Brian has a special way with students, said Daniel Zoller, principal at Lockhart. Male elementary-school teachers must take special care to show compassion, Zoller said.

Sometimes Brian eats lunch with students as a reward, and he mentors former students who have moved on to third grade and beyond.

Mostly, Zoller said, students feel safe raising their hands and asking questions.

“They feel confident because they know Mr. Quigley will say, ‘What can I do for you and how can I help you?’ ” Zoller said.

For the Quigleys, it’s all about the experience.

“They kind of keep you young,” Brian said of students. “They give you some gray hairs sometimes. (But) they keep you laughing.”

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