First-Year Teachers Begin Making Connections
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
AUGUST 6, 2019 – Growing up, Ashley Jenkins knew she wanted to help others.
“I felt this desire to help and make a difference,” Jenkins said. “I decided to make a difference by helping to shape the future.”
Jenkins, a 2019 graduate of Western Carolina University, is helping to shape the future by teaching first-graders at Gibson Elementary.
On Monday morning Aug. 5, Jenkins was one of 196 first-year teachers who came to the school system’s Education Building for the first of three days of Core Academy.
Some, like Jenkins, recently graduated from college. Others pursued other paths before choosing to become teachers. Some grew up here, graduating from high Winston-Salem/Forsyth County high schools. Three are from other countries – New Zealand, Colombia, Brazil.
By the end of the Core Academy program, the new teachers will have learned about such topics as lesson planning and classroom management, said Judy Jones, the Interim Director of Professional Development & Recruitment for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “There is ground we have to cover.”
Even more important for Jones, though, was that Core Academy provide an opportunity for the new teachers to begin connecting with others in the school system.
“The main purpose is to begin building relationships,” Jones said.
Early Monday morning, representatives of some education organizations were setting up tables in the lobby so the new teachers could learn more about them. Val Young, who is the president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators (FCAE), was there with several members.
Also on hand was Yvonne Williams, the president of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Retired School Personnel, which helps teachers by providing school supplies. Before retiring, Williams taught at Parkland High for 26 years.
Asked what she knows now that she would have liked to know when she started teaching, Williams said, “Just to be myself and be genuine with the students.”
When she started out, she said, she thought she had to be tough. Although you do have to maintain discipline, she said, you can still let students know who you are as a person.
Jenkins was the first teacher to arrive. Katelynd Caudill, who will be teaching third grade at Kimmel Farm Elementary, arrived a few minutes later. Freda Smith, the principal at Northwest Middle and the district’s 2018 Principal of the Year, was the first principal to arrive.
When the women came in, a kitten was hiding in the bushes letting everyone know he needed help. Other than that, all was quiet on the sidewalk leading up to entrance.
The plan was for the superintendent, principals, and Central Office administrators to greet the new teachers as they arrived, and, soon, Smith had lots of company, including Kenneth Simington, the interim superintendent.
One of the principals was Sean Gaillard, who was a principal with the school system from 2004 to 2016. He is returning to serve as the principal at Moore Elementary.
“It’s like coming back home,” Gaillard said.
Another principal there was Debbie McIntyre of Jefferson Elementary. Asked what her advice to new teachers would be, McIntyre said, “Be true to who you are. Focus on building relationships with your students, getting to know everything you can about them. Enjoy your kids and have fun.”
It’s also important, she said, to ask for help when you need it.
Wanting to welcome the new teachers in a fun way, some of the greeters donned giant sunglasses. Others armed themselves with such festive accessories as beach balls and pom poms. Some greeters formed a line along the sidewalk. Others stood at the entrance to the building.
As people arrived, the kitten became more comfortable and came out into the open to visit. Before the day was over, the kitten had found a home with Rita Reece, who named the kitten Lily.
When first-year teacher Jeff Rodgers walked up and saw everyone greeting the new teachers, it took back to the night of his 14th birthday. Walking into a restaurant, he saw all these people waiting for him and thought, “Oh my gosh, these people are about to sing happy birthday to me!”
Rodgers and his wife, Christine, used to live in Texas, where he had his own technology business. When the offer of a job in cancer research for his wife brought them here, he decided to become an educator, and, this year, he will be teaching technology at Flat Rock Middle.
Another new teacher making a career turn was Jennifer Baker, who has been the Parent/Family Engagement Coordinator at Forest Park Elementary. This year, she is headed to Hanes Magnet Middle to teach Spanish.
Before Jamila Buroff became a new teacher at Carter High, where she will be working with students with special needs, she was working with young people with special needs through a home-health-care company.
She finds it rewarding to working with students with special needs, she said. “I just fell in love with it.”
Nicholas Roman became a cable technician after graduating from Winston-Salem State University with a degree in physical education. This year, he will be teaching at Carver High.
Tyriq Evans was among the new teachers who graduated from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County high schools. After graduating from East Forsyth High, he headed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has a gift for math and will be teaching math at Atkins Academic & Technology High School.
Adrian Lee, who will be an Exceptional Children resource teacher at Glenn High, also graduated from East Forsyth. He is delighted to be able to work in the community where he grew up.
After everyone was seated, Marty Creech, the school system’s Director of Digital Teaching and Learning, greeted everyone. After inviting people from here, other parts of North Carolina, and other parts of the United States, he invited people who are from other countries to raise their hands.
Three hands went up.
Margarita Gomez, who is from Colombia, will be teaching at Old Town Elementary. Rita Reece, who is from Brazil, will be teaching at Ward Elementary, and Daniel Key, who is from New Zealand, will be teaching at Old Richmond Elementary.
When Simington spoke, he talked about the importance of the striving to be the best that you can be and of focusing on the students and remembering that they come first.
“Everything else follows,” Simington said. “It’s all about the people.”