A Passion for the Classroom

01 Oct 2013

Three Teacher of the Year recipients from New Hanover County provide us an education on their unwavering commitment to help kids learn


 New Hanover County Teachers of the Year

More than pencils and paper, lesson plans and long division, teaching is a call that many educators are honored to follow. Wilmington Magazine is proud to introduce you to three exceptional educators serving in our public schools, recently recognized as outstanding Teachers of the Year for 2013-14. Their philosophies are heartening, their dedication is evident; we hope you are as inspired by them as we are. Here’s to a wonderful school year ahead!



2013-14 Elementary Teacher of the Year

Currently teaching 5th grade at Winter Park Elementary School

Length of time teaching: 5 years

Hometown: Greensboro, NC

Graduated from: UNCW

Major: Elementary Education

 Kristi Harper

Favorite quote?

"Life's most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" ―Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote, in many ways, sums up why I decided on a career in education. Teaching is my way of giving back to my community, but it is a win-win because working with amazing children also keeps my cup full, often even overflowing. Teaching is certainly the most rewarding form of public service. I strive to instill this value in my students, as well. Developing strong character in my students is just as high of a priority for me as teaching them all of the elements of the Common Core State Standards. If they leave my room at the end of the year knowing the importance of and reward in "doing for others," my job is done.

Why did you choose to become a teacher?

My mother is a teacher and I think it was inevitable that I would follow the same path. I fought the pull to education for years, and came to it as a second career and have never regretted it for a second. I got the bug at an early age. I used to line all of my baby dolls up on the bed and "play school" for hours. My favorite Christmas present as a child was a chalkboard, which brought my bedroom/classroom instruction to a whole new level! I was at school with my mother or aunt, also a retired educator, on every teacher workday, so eager to be a part of the mysterious behind-the-scenes world of teachers. I remain a teacher because of daily triumphs with students and the amazing support of the master teachers at my school, who support me as I continue to develop and grow. Teaching is not for the light of heart, but for those of us who love it, we could never dream of being satisfied doing anything else.

What or who inspires your teaching and why?

New Hanover County is filled with what I call "giants of education." I believe some of the greatest educators in the country are right here in New Hanover County. I have had the humbling experience of learning from many of these "giants", and they certainly inspire the teacher I have become. I also believe strongly in the work of Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like A Champion, and Sean Covey, who adapted his father's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for children and teens. Teaching my students to be respectful and responsible citizens is as high a priority for me as teaching them to multiply and divide fractions.

What do you feel contributes to your success as a teacher?

Having the opportunity to witness the passion of a teacher from my mother and aunt helps me to appreciate the gravity of what I do on a daily basis. I have learned from amazing educators throughout my career, and attribute my success to their willingness to teach me.

As we approach a new school year, what suggestions do you have for students to start off on the right foot for a successful year?

I LOVE the beginning of the school year. In what other part of your life do you get a clean slate every 12 months? I encourage teachers and students alike to approach every new school year as a clean slate. It is a chance to try new things, break bad habits, make new friends, and become the best you can be. The key to that is going in with an open mind and willing heart.

What qualities do you seek to nurture in your students so that they are well prepared academically?

As a community, Winter Park instills the principals of Covey's work, The Seven Habits of Happy Kids,into our students. I believe if we can mold a child's character, the curriculum becomes a much more manageable mountain to climb. I want them to be respectful, responsible, and use good manners. Our goals and objectives during those first weeks set the foundation for a successful school year; we learn to be a community of learners. I find that when students feel comfortable and safe in my classroom, it makes my job and their job a lot easier down the line.



2013-14 Middle School Teacher of the Year

Currently teaching 6th grade Language Arts/Social Studies at Williston Middle School

Length of time teaching: 9 years

Hometown: Lancaster, PA

Graduated from: UNCW

Major: English

 Lisa Doyle

Favorite quote?

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” ― Steve Jobs

Why did you choose to become a teacher?

The first make-believe game I ever played included me, all my stuffed animals lined up in the kitchen chairs, and a chalkboard. A local library was discarding old textbooks and I saved one, and taught that book to my animals until I was old enough to con my sister and cousins into being my students. Teaching comes naturally to me. It’s a passion and a talent, and I’m one of the lucky ones who can go to work every day knowing with certainty I’m walking down my path.

When I was an intern in a first grade classroom, I was teaching basic addition facts to the kids. At that time, everyone was really into the “mad minute”, where the kids would have one minute to complete (correctly) as many addition facts on their paper that they could. I had one little boy who just couldn’t for the life of him get past three or four problems before the time was up. One afternoon, while I was collecting their finished “check plus” or “check-minus” worksheets, he walked up to show me his. He had correctly completed 12 of the problems, and honestly, I didn’t believe he did it, so I asked him, “How did you do that?” He looked at me with these trusting, honest, 6-year-old eyes and replied, “Cause you taught me, Ms. Doyle.”

If I ever needed a better reason to pour myself into a profession, I don’t know what that reason could be. I’ve had many intense moments over the last nine years, both sobering and hilarious, but that one will always remain a clear and vivid image of why I do what I do.

What or who inspires your teaching and why?

I truly believe that no matter what our circumstances, education is the ticket that can take us where we want to go. I am motivated to pass this commitment towards reaching for the life you really want onto my students.

What do you feel contributes to your success as a teacher?

I’ve learned two valuable lessons over time. First, the best classroom management is not punishment and rewards, it’s fantastic lesson planning. Engaged students behave―simple as that. Second, creating community in the classroom is more important, at least in the beginning, than tackling curriculum and academics. Students who trust their peers as well as their teacher, try so much harder and make more strides in the long run because they feel safe enough to take risks and make mistakes.

As we approach a new school year, what suggestions do you have for students to start off on the right foot for a successful year?

Don’t stress the first two weeks. It will be information overload, and your teachers will start off strong to give you every tool you need for success. Sit back, take it all in, and while you are gearing up, consider not only what kind of student you want to be this year, but what kind of person.

What Qualities do you Seek to Nurture in Your Students so That They are Well Prepared Academically? Obviously I seek to grow in them skills like organization, prioritizing, and how to thrive in a world driven by ever-evolving technology. Beyond that, I hope to inspire my kids to value their education, and learn to take every single bit of knowledge they receive and work it to the best of their ability.



2013-14 High School Teacher of the Year and New Hanover County Schools Teacher of the Year

Currently teaching 9-12 Civics & Economics and U.S. History at E.A. Laney High School

Length of time teaching: 10 years

Hometown: Henderson, NC

Graduated from: UNC-CH

Major: Political Science and American Studies

 Melissa Gillespie

Favorite quote?

I have two displayed in my classroom at all times:

"People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be." ―Abraham Lincoln

"Learning is a place where paradise can be created." ―bell hooks (deliberately uncapitalized pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins)

Why did you choose to become a teacher?

I always tell my students on the first day of school that my dream job is to be a professional student―I love everything about learning. So what was the next best thing? Being a teacher. I decided I wanted to become a teacher to give back to society on a larger scale, and to be of service to others. I view education as a source of freedom and a way to connect a thirst for knowledge with the will to become something extraordinary.

What or who inspires your teaching and why?

Ultimately, the students inspire my teaching; no student and/or class is ever the same and this will ultimately determine the atmosphere of your classroom. Richelle Dombroski (a teacher at Laney High School) inspires me, because she taught me that it is a teacher's responsibility to provide a nurturing and welcoming learning environment for all students, and to take seriously the position of influence a teacher holds. She also showed me that learning can be fun and that "thinking outside of the box" creates a classroom where the students are active participants in their education and learning process.

What do you feel contributes to your success as a teacher?

In my classroom students are not allowed to be passive consumers of knowledge. I believe that it is crucial to the academic culture for me, and every student, to be an active participant in education. I strive to ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of my learners. As a teacher I can influence what my students talk about, how they think, and what they become―teaching is a social responsibility. My understanding of this social responsibility guides my belief that a teacher not only cares about her students; but she must also understand how she fits into her community and makes learning relevant. My greatest contribution as an educator is how I adjust the curriculum, my teaching strategies, and classroom environment to better meet the needs of my students so they can be active participants. Also, I focus on the well being of the "whole-child" in my classroom.

As we approach a new school year, what suggestions do you have for students to start off on the right foot for a successful year?

Identify your learning style, learn how to identify your strengths and overcome your weaknesses, begin the year with a positive attitude, never be afraid to ask questions, and create a routine.

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