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East Forsyth High Teacher Joins State Teacher Leadership Council

East 1NOVEMBER 18, 2021 – Catherine Truitt, who is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, wants teachers to have more of a voice in state-level decisions. With that in mind, she decided to establish a Teacher Leadership Council.

With the help of Julie Pittman, the state’s Special Advisor on Teacher Engagement, Truitt invited teacher leaders throughout the state to join.

One of those teacher leaders is Stephanie Wallace, the 2020-21 Teacher of the Year for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Wallace, who has taught English at East Forsyth High since 2000, went on to place second for Regional Teacher of the Year.

The 30 members of the Teacher Leadership Council met for the first time on Nov. 10. Wallace enjoyed embarking on this new education adventure with other teacher leaders.

“Everybody is still so passionate about education and what is best for kids,” Wallace said.

“The communication is very rich and that is invigorating.”

The main focus for the first meeting was social and emotional learning. With students attending school from home via computer because of COVID-19 until recently, students have had to deal with many stresses.

Although some were comfortable working online, Wallace said, many were not able to do as well in school as they had when coming to school in person. Wallace is the mother of two students so she knows first-hand what some of those challenges have been.

So teacher leaders talked about ways to help students regain their emotional well-being now that they are back in school and about helping them find the best ways to continue learning.

“Whatever helps them to engage the best,” she said.

For some, that can be continuing to use a computer while in the classroom. For others, a pencil or pen and sheet of paper is definitely the way to go.

One benefit of the time that students spent going to school at home, Wallace said, is that it has made them really appreciate coming to school in person and connecting directly with fellow students and teachers.

“I think the kids value school more,” she said. “I don’t think they understood how much they missed the interaction.”

Students coming back to school has had its amusing moments. Because some students never used the camera on their computer at home, she may be been thrown off by someone she doesn’t recognize saying, “I was in your English class last year.”    

The plan is for the Teacher Leadership Council to meet monthly. For now, they are meeting online only. Wallace is looking forward to continuing to explore different topics with other teachers.

“I’m excited,” she said.

As part of the process of establishing the council, teachers were invited to list some of the topics they wanted to explore, and she thinks they will be taken serious by people in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“They very much wanted to find out what we thought was pertinent,” she said.

“Knowing these ideas are going directly back to Truitt, that made it worth the time.”

One topic that came up was teacher compensation.

“The school boards have to do something to show teachers they value them,” she said.

For Wallace, a particularly exciting topic is the possibility of more schools – and school systems – offering a Teacher Cadet program, which helps high school students prepare for careers as teacher.

Wallace leads the Teacher Cadet program at East Forsyth High, and many graduates of her program are now teachers.

“I have almost 200 former students teaching,” she said.

So she appreciates just how valuable the program is.

To make it work, though, this Board of Education and school boards in other districts would have to allot the money to provide the necessary support. Wallace is excited that the WS/FCS Board of Education is already have this conversation.

Another topic council members expect to explore is how schools deal with curriculum decisions such as the debate concerning Critical Race Theory, which states that “systemic racism is part of American society — from education and housing to employment and healthcare. It is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities.”

Another topic is standardized testing.

“We are asking for some relief in standardized testing,” Wallace said.

As it is, she said, some standardized tests don’t truly evaluate what student have learned, and they would like “authentic” testing that does a better job of truly evaluating what students are learning.

Council members would also like to see school offer more classes that allow them to explore a wider range of topics, more classes that provide job skills, and more classes that deal directly with social and emotional learning.

An example of a class that would enable students to do more exploring would be a science class that deals with a number of different science topics so students could decide if they wanted to take a full class on one of those topics. Another possibility would be an arts class that offered two weeks of dance, two weeks of theater, etc., so students could decide if they wanted to take a full-semester  class on one of those topics.   

Wallace is already a busy woman. In addition to teaching and leading the Teacher Cadet program, her family responsibilities and being active in the Forsyth County Association of Educators, she is working on her doctorate in Education. 

In the coming months, Wallace expects to spend a lot of time and energy working to support the council.

That’s fine with her.

“Even if it’s time-consuming, it’s what I love,” she said. “It’s not a burden at all.”