Five of the finalists for the Wake County Teacher of the Year award work at Raleigh schools.
The Wake County Public School System named 13 finalists for the award. The finalists come from a pool of teachers elected by their peers at their individual schools. The winner will be named May 14.
Here, local finalists share their thoughts.
Catie Burnette, Bugg Elementary School
Grade level: Second grade
Education: Bachelor’s degree in child development and family studies from UNC-Chapel Hill
Experience: Teaching five years
Burnette said she always knew she wanted to be involved in education because of her own experiences.
“I enjoyed school, I had fun at school,” she said. “Those are things that I try to bring into the classroom.”
She loves laughing with her students and watching when one finally grasps a difficult topic.
“They all have the potential to be successful and to learn,” Burnette said. “That is something that drives me on a daily basis.”
Burnette said she loves teaching at a creative arts and science school where kids roll up their sleeves and try things as part of their learning.
“Experiential education is as fun for the teachers as it is for the students,” she said.
Karyn Gloden, Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy
Subject: Middle school English, language arts and social studies
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University; master’s degree from N.C. State University
Experience: Teaching 29 years
Gloden said she was inspired to teach by her own experiences in school, a place where she always felt safe and accepted. Teaching was a natural fit for her.
“I’ve always been an avid reader, writer and lover of words, and it just seemed like the place to take that love,” she said.
Gloden has spent most of her career in Wake County schools working with middle school students. She said middle school is a wonderful place to teach as students figure out what kind of adults they’re going to be.
“There’s so much potential for the adults in their lives to help them navigate a pretty complicated world,” she said.
She said technology has brought significant changes to both teaching and learning. Students have unprecedented access to information and ways to apply what they discover.
“It’s just opened up a whole new world in the classroom,” she said.
Austin James, Millbrook High School
Subject: Math and statistics
Education: Bachelor’s degree from N.C. State University; master’s in education from Wake Forest University
Experience: Teaching seven years
James said he wanted to become a teacher after experiencing firsthand how important a teacher or a coach can be to a student.
“When I was in high school I recognized what a huge impact my teachers and coaches had on me – my values, my worldview, and my growth,” he said. “I decided that I wanted the chance to have a similar impact on others.”
Now, as a math teacher and baseball coach, James can foster the same kind of environment for his students.
He said the best part of his day changes, but it always comes back to a student using his or her knowledge to make a new connection.
“It is very fulfilling to see a student gain confidence, right before your eyes,” James said.
Dave Jones, Brentwood Elementary School
Subject: Physical education
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Penn State University; master’s in health from East Carolina University; working on a doctorate in education from UNC-Greensboro
Experience: Teaching 10 years
Jones initially was inspired to teach by his mother, who taught physical education for 30 years, and his own love of sports as a child. He thought he would teach high school, but his first assignment landed him in an elementary school, where he quickly found a home.
“They’re always so happy, and they’re still innocent,” he said of his students. “They’re so enthused for physical education. I probably get a hundred hugs a day.”
Jones said one of the best parts of teaching is watching students learn new skills. Seeing a kindergartner master the jump rope never loses its joy, he said.
As a physical education teacher, Jones said he likes that he can interact with students from year to year as they mature.
“I look forward to my job every day,” he said. “Not everyone can say that.”
Sydney Sherry, York Elementary School
Job: Tier II reading interventionist
Education: Bachelor’s degree in childhood education and special education from Niagara University
Experience: Teaching eight years
Sherry said she loves sharing her passion for reading with her students.
“For me, reading has been something I loved to do outside of school,” she said. “I think passing that love on to students is really rewarding.”
Sherry taught second and third grades for six years before becoming the reading interventionist. At first, she was nervous about working with the youngest children in the school because they wouldn’t be as independent as her older students.
But she quickly grew to love kindergartners and first-graders.
“It is just so much fun because they are like sponges,” she said.
Sherry counts her own fifth-grade teacher as one of her main inspirations. “She made every day feel like an adventure. You never knew what you were going to get.”