When Kathy Hopkins was in college, she aspired to be a famous opera singer in Europe.
“I thought that was going to be my life,” Hopkins said.
She’d travel the world and sing at different venues.
However, her parents, and particularly her father, wasn’t going for that. He told her she needed to come out of school with a certificate that would get her a job where she could earn a living.
“That was a gift to me from my parents,” she said.
She eventually landed in education – like her parents – where her art form switched from singing to teaching. And she has done so now for more than 30 years (29 years at Aversboro Elementary School). Hopkins also is one of 26 semifinalists up for Wake County’s “Teacher of the Year” award.
The announcement was made last Monday, and this past Tuesday, Hopkins was recognized along with the other candidates at a school board meeting. The group will be whittled down to 13 finalists, who will be announced in early April. The new “Teacher of the Year,” will be named on May 11.
While her first teaching job was in upstate New York, Hopkins has been at Aversboro Elementary since 1987, and has touched the lives of many students. She teaches music to elementary students in all grade levels. And she now teaches students whose parents she once taught when they were in elementary school.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Hopkins said. “To become a part of a community over a period of almost 30 years, and to see the community change and see the parents. I love the intergenerational approach. That’s one thing I love about teaching music, is sharing music with all generations.”
Throughout Hopkin’s classroom are musical notes, pictures of musicians, books and many different instruments.
During class Friday, fifth-grade students learned improvisation while playing on a recorder. She encouraged her students to be creative and asked them to think critically. It is one of the four C’s she teaches by.
“Critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity,” she said.
Rather than just play music, the students use the information they have at hand to make decisions.
Her voice is always calm. And her students follow her lead and listen to her instructions.
Hopkins said she would describe her style of teaching as “love and structure.”
“I always use a tone of voice with my students where they know that I love them and I care about them,” Hopkins said. “I teach the students to empower themselves. It something that I believe in very strongly. I help them see what’s inside of themselves.”
She reminds her students that it isn’t always about their singing voices.
It’s about who they are and what they can contribute, she said.
“I think when children feel that they are cared for then they are ready to learn,” Aversboro principal Tiffany Stuart said. “And they want to work hard for a teacher that cares about them. They don’t want to let down a teacher who cares about them.”
Pinnacle of a career
The day the semifinalists were announced for district, the teachers at Aversboro had not been able to get on the Internet. Stuart called an emergency meeting for the teachers after school and said she had an announcement to make.
After school, the teachers gathered. There, awaiting them were a big bouquet of balloons for someone.
And Stuart made her announcement that Hopkins had been selected as one of the 26 semifinalists for Wake County Teacher of the Year.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Hopkins said. “I had no idea.”
This is her third nomination as teacher of the year for her school, but she had never made it as far as a semifinalist for the award.
Stuart said she was not surprised to hear Hopkins had been selected as a semifinalist.
“But I was elated,” Stuart said. “Ms. Hopkins so represents our school and our community. I’m just so proud of her and proud she is moving on to that next level for recognition and taking a look at what we do and why we do it. It’s just the best profession in the world. So to see our teachers honored is truly special.”
Hopkins said winning the “Teacher of the Year” honor for Wake County would be the pinnacle of her career.
“I thank God every day that I know what I want to do with my life,” she said. “I know what my purpose is. I know why I am here. I have a life’s work. And to have that recognzied as exceptional would be very rewarding.
“But if I don’t get it, I won’t do anything differently.”