Teachers leave many lasting impressions, and the region’s top teachers have a lot to say about their profession and their legacies.
The region’s Teachers of the Year were honored at UNC Pembroke’s final 2010-11 season football game on November 6. The teachers attended a pre-game cookout in the Oxendine Lobby of the English E. Jones Athletic Complex, and they were honored during a halftime ceremony.
Top Teachers – From left: Kristy Wagers, Richmond County; Ruthie Newman, Columbus County; Bruce Ketcham, Whiteville City, Sarah Hennessey, Cumberland County; and Amber Alford-Watkins, Scotland County and Region Teacher of the Year
Chancellor Kyle R. Carter, who is married to a former public school teacher, praised the profession and the Teachers of the Year.
“If you have never been a public school teacher or been married to one, you cannot fully appreciate the work they do,” Chancellor Carter said. “There is no nobler profession, and we take pride in your accomplishments.
“This University was founded to train teachers of American Indian students,” he said. “We have come a long way, but training teachers remains at the core of this institution.”
In interviews, the teachers showed why they were being honored as outstanding professionals.
Region Teacher of the Year Amber Alford Watkins, who represented Scotland County Schools, offered several ideas about her impact on students.
“I would like my legacy to be that I served humanity by strengthening our youth through knowledge,” Watkins said. “I believe in public service, and I would like to instill that value in the young people I teach.”
Watkins, who earned her Master’s of School Administration from UNCP in 2009, is an assistant principal at Carver Middle School. Her wish is that her colleagues “grow stronger through collaboration between teachers, and between teachers and parents.”
Showing how she puts theory into practice, Watkins was seen moments later collaborating with Sarah Hennessey, who represented Cumberland County Schools and was runner-up region teacher of the year.
“I have been dying to meet you,” Hennessey said. “Everyone told me I had to meet you.”
The teachers chatted, and afterward, Hennessey said her wish for her profession is very similar to Watkins.
“I would like to see teachers have a support network for exchanging ideas and to boost morale,” Hennessey said. “Often teachers feel isolated and confused.
“I want my legacy to be that I supported new teachers and encouraged others to join the profession,” Hennessey said. “In particular, our veterans who have started teaching need our support.”
Hennessey is a 23-year veteran and teaches 3rd grade at Warrenwood Elementery School. Bruce Ketchan earned Whiteville City Schools Teacher of the Year award in only his 5th year.
“What I would like for teachers is that they be open-minded and bring new ideas to the classroom,” Ketcham said. “I hope my legacy is that I empowered my students to be the best they can be.”
Ketcham is an 8th grade social studies teacher at Central Middle School.
Ruthie Newman teaches 3rd grade at Evergreen Elementary School and is Columbus County Schools’ Teacher of the Year. One of her children graduated from UNCP and another is a UNCP senior who plays on the softball team.
“We’re all about Pembroke, and I constantly encourage my students to think about going to college,” Newman said. “I talk about my children, and my children come to the classroom to talk with the students.”
A 19-year veteran teacher, Newman said her students are from a rural community, which can leave them at a disadvantage.
“I want to motivate them and build up their self image,” Newman said. “I tell them they can do anything; that they can change the world.
“What I wish for all of us is more funding for schools,” Newman said. “We can do a lot without money, but we can do a lot more with it.
“We used to take our children to Givens Performing Arts Center every year to see live theatre and to see the University,” she said. “That’s an experience we can’t afford right now.”
Also in attendance were Kristi Wagers, a 9th grade English teacher with Richmond County Schools, and Wendy Robeson, a business education teacher with Harnett County Schools.
Dr. Leah Fiorentino, dean of UNC’s School of Education, congratulated teachers on being selected as outstanding teachers.
“This is the first opportunity we’ve had to bring the teachers of the year together like this,” Dr. Fiorentino said. “I appreciate that many of you work with our student-interns, and I thank you for all you do.”