Being a teacher is tough.
Sure, there is the basic task of molding minds and imparting knowledge and wisdom on children.
But a teacher’s job never stops outside the classroom. There are papers to grade and students to worry about. There’s dipping into your own wallet to buy supplies, or to help out a child who could use a little assistance.
This all comes as salaries barely increase and expectations are higher than ever.
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In Wake County, Teacher of the Year candidates are nominated by their peers at their respecive schools. From there, the county picks 26 semifinalists and then 13 finalists.
Thirteen teachers selected out of 10,000 overall. Wow.
The finalists have prepared portfolios on their work and teaching philosophy, and they’re observed in the classroom.
The winner will be named Thursday, May 14, at a banquet at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Meet the finalists who teach in Cary and southwestern Wake County.
Karla Nantz, Cary High
The basics: She has taught social studies at Cary High for all 11 years of her career.
Extra credit: She is a club adviser for Students for South Sudan, a student-led organization that strives to raise awareness of conditions in South Sudan and raises money to provide resources for schools in that country. The club’s funds have helped build desks and a library. She also is co-sponsor of the history club and the Harry Potter Club.
Why I became a teacher: “To fulfill my passion for helping others,” she said. “I believe that we all have the power to make a positive difference. I also consider myself a life-long learner. School, for the most part, came easy for me – until I reached college - and I want to reveal the fun in learning for my students. Teaching is a great way to help me pursue my personal interests and positively impact the lives of teens in the process.”
The biggest challenge facing educators: “The stigma and stereotype that our schools are failing,” she said. “The teachers and school leaders at Cary High School are always striving to improve instruction, promote a positive, inclusive learning environment, and reach the learning needs of all students. I firmly believe the teachers and administrators throughout our nation strive to do the same each and every day.”
I hope my students remember me as: “When students think about me as their teacher, it brings a smile to their face and fond memories,” she said. “I want them to remember that I cared deeply about them as a person, including how they treat others, their successes, and opportunities to learn life lessons. I often tell them that my role as their teacher won’t end when they leave my classroom at the end of the course, or when they cross the stage at graduation. I will always be here to support and encourage them.”
Susan Holland, Reedy Creek Middle
The basics: Holland has been teaching 13 years in Wake County. She was at Millbrook High and East Cary Middle before she came to Reedy Creek to teach math five years ago.
Extra credit: Holland tutors students in math after school twice a week. She also has been a cheerleading coach and assistant girls basketball coach in the past.
Why I became a teacher: “Both of my parents are retired teachers, so from a young age, I had an immense appreciation for the career and the positive effects my parents had on their students,” Holland said. “I loved the idea of being able to help mold and shape future generations. I was a recipient of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship and was blessed to be a part of that program throughout college. The experiences provided by Teaching Fellows solidified my desire to be an educator.
The biggest challenge facing educators: “The teaching profession can be trying, but it is important to remember that students may spend more time with their teachers than they do with family members at home,” she said. “Teachers must set high expectations and hold students accountable in order for students to reach their full potential.”
I hope my students remember me as: “A tough, but fair teacher who cared not only about their academic successes, but their strides to become valuable citizens outside the classroom as well,” she said. “I support my students in their after-school activities and stress the importance of finding ways to excel in their school work and their hobbies.”
Matthew Scialdone, Middle Creek High
The basics: Scialdone has spent his entire teaching career of 13 years at Middle Creek and has been with the school since it opened. He teaches English I and African-American literature
Extra credit: He is co-chair of the English Department, runs the after-school detention program and teaches Summer School. He has been the technical director of school musicals and was an assistant coach for our softball team.
Why I became a teacher: “As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “The only aspect of my career path that has changed is what type of teacher I would become. I went from wanting to be a martial arts instructor, to a music teacher, to finally an English teacher. The moment of discovery is addictive – no matter the subject.”
The best advice I got about teaching: “Have high expectations for your students,” he said. “They will almost always rise to meet those expectations, and even when they don’t achieve those highest-set goals, growth has occurred all the same.”
I hope my students remember me as: “An energetic advocate for my students who made learning fun.”
Ruth McCoy, Fuquay-Varina High
The basics: Ninth year as choral director and teaches the Chamber Choir, Concert Choir and Advanced Vocal Studies Class. McCoy has taught in schools in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Extra credit: McCoy is involved with musical theater productions and is the sponsor of the Tri-M Music Honor Society. “My vocal groups sing the national anthem at school sporting events and perform various concerts throughout the year, both at school and in the local community,” she said. “They have performed twice at Carnegie Hall and have taken home many championship awards at festivals across the country.”
Why I became a teacher: “I have always loved music, and I wanted to share the benefits and joy of creating something beautiful with my students,” she said. “I believe that participation in the arts can have a positive and profound effect on a person’s character and can thus make an positive impact on society.”
The best advice I got about teaching: “If something is not working in your choir or classroom it’s your fault,” McCoy said. “This indictment made me aware that placing the blame elsewhere (students, parents, facility, lack of materials, etc.) is non-productive and will not result in improvement or growth. It is up to the teacher to re-examine methods and make changes necessary to fix problems. Only by taking ownership of problems can we become empowered to fix them.”
I hope my students remember me as: “A person who believed in them, and inspired them to strive for excellence in all of their endeavors.”
Alison Nicole VanKerckhove, Willow Springs Elementary
The basics: She has been teaching fifth grade for 12 years at Willow Springs.
Extra credit: After school, she teaches adults strength, stretching and meditative skills through yoga at a local gym.
Why I became a teacher: “I wanted to become a teacher for as long as I can remember,” she said. “Teachers have the ability to mentor, coach and inspire young people to become creative, critical thinkers that can effectively collaborate and communicate in an ever changing global market. It is an honor to be an integral part of helping children identify their strengths and build upon them, and helping them become the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.”
The biggest challenge facing educators: “Educators have the incredible responsibility of identifying learning styles and areas of need for every child in their classroom through observation and assessment, developing culminating lessons that are relevant and rigorous, while also being a counselor and coach to young people,” she said. “It is naturally a challenging profession. When you add the stresses of standardized tests and low teacher morale into the mix, teachers can become very overwhelmed, and at times, underappreciated.”
I hope my students remember me as: “Mrs. V will always be in their corner, cheering them on, challenging them to eagerly seek the next rung in life, and helping in any way possible. If they ever need to talk, share their dreams, or have a laugh with someone that will always be there for them, I hope they know they can count on me.
▪ Mary Catherine Burnette, Bugg Elementary School
▪ Karyn Gloden, Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy
▪ Jean Hockenyos, Wakefield Elementary School
▪ Austin James, Millbrook High School
▪ David Jones, Brentwood Elementary School
▪ Clinton McCaskill, Heritage High School
▪ Sydney Sherry, York Elementary School
▪ Erline Speed, Zebulon Middle School