A quick peek into Erline Speed’s sixth-grade classroom at Zebulon Magnet Middle School sheds light on her qualifications as a finalist for the Wake County Public Schools teacher of the year.
While her feisty social studies students might tease her, they hold clear respect for her authority in the classroom. “Ms. Speed,” as they call her, compliments them on their behavior this week and says that she will treat them to pizza. They cheer.
Speed is in her first year back in the classroom, after several years as a classroom teacher in Wilson County, where she worked with current Zebulon Middle School principal Dalphine Perry. She arrived in Zebulon in 2006, working first as the school’s magnet program coordinator. Since then, she has served as a testing coordinator and an instructional resource teacher before returning to the classroom this year as a social studies and language arts teacher. Though this is her first year back in the classroom, it didn’t take long to get her work noticed.
Speed started teaching seventh grade 16 years ago, for the first six years in Wilson County, Wake County and in Virginia.
Not only do those positions outside the classroom qualify her beyond the teaching position, they also resonate with her students who look to her as a role model and someone who will listen.
Students “just inately trust her ... and admire her,” Perry said. The middle school teacher attends her students’ sports games as well, discussing them with children the next day. And with high expectations, “Ms. Speed” holds both the struggling and gifted students accountable.
Several years ago, Speed recalls, one of her students would come up many days after class to talk through her difficult home life. Speed ran into the student a few years later and the student hugged her.
“Thank you for being the teacher you were for me. You were more than a teacher,” she said to Speed.
That’s why she enjoys the middle school age student, Speed said.
“At this level, they are trying to find themselves. Every day is a journey, no day is the same. I like being a part of that,” she said. She had missed the classroom environment.
As a military wife, life can be challenging, but she enjoys entertaining guests and spending time with family, including her grown son.
Perry said Speed stands out because of her natural leadership and professional excellence, including her lengthy experience and versatility in administration.
“She’s a life-long learner. She loves learning as much as she can about this profession,” Perry said, adding that Speed also has acheived her administrative certification. “She gives her all to the school.”