It hasn’t even been a year since Rebeka Townsend and Kennedy Wilmer graduated from the NC State College of Education, but they’re already making a big impact in their classrooms in Wake County. Townsend and Wilmer each won a Diane Kent-Parker First-Year Teacher Award, a Wake County Public School System award that recognizes an outstanding teacher in an elementary school, middle school, high school and special education program.
Townsend majored in secondary math education at the College of Education and now teaches Foundations of Math I/Math I B at Rolesville High in Rolesville, N.C. Wilmer, who majored in elementary education, is a second-grade teacher at Lynn Road Elementary in Raleigh, N.C.
Below, Townsend and Wilmer discuss their favorite memories from their first year of teaching and what winning this award means to them in an edited interview.
My Favorite First Year Teaching Moment:
Townsend: In my sheltered Math 1 class, we did a scavenger hunt activity in which I paired English Language Learners with Native English speakers to work together. I loved hearing the conversations the students had, not only about the math they were learning, but also about one another’s cultures and lives outside of school. Throughout the school year, the students in this class have really bonded, and it’s been so awesome to be a part of!
Wilmer: One moment that I’ll forever remember was when one of my students suddenly left my school to move out of state with her family. About two months later, while I was teaching, I heard a knock at the door, and the next thing I know that student runs in and jumps into my arm and says, “Ms. Wilmer I’m back, I’m back, I’m finally home!” It took everything in me not to cry tears of happiness. To find my students running into class every morning to give me hugs or high fives makes coming to school after long days that much easier.
What I Learned My First Year Teaching:
Townsend: The students in our schools today have a lot going on inside and outside of the classroom. There are so many things calling for their attention and many will struggle to know what really is important at this time in their lives. Teachers have the incredible opportunity to influence their students for good.
Wilmer: There are a lot of days that don’t go as planned, but I learned that it’s okay. My classroom is in constant motion, filled with disruptions, discussion and new ideas. Being flexible is accommodating of this curiosity, allowing lessons to have a much looser structure, letting discussions and thoughts play out and following them to see where they go.
My Advice To Soon-to-Be First-Year Teachers:
Townsend: One of the things I wish I had done before the school year started is creating a more concrete classroom management plan. Talk with coworkers and fellow teachers over the summer, and make a list of your expectations and subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Take an in-depth look at your school rules and determine which situations should be handled by the administration and which should be handled in the classroom.
Wilmer: Build relationships with your students from the first day they step into the classroom. It’s one of the most important dynamics, and it’s the glue that holds your classroom together. Build relationships with parents. They know your students the most, and when you have them on your team they will become your biggest supporters! Lastly, build relationships with staff members and administrators. I found that having relationships not just with your team members, but with other staff members in other grades makes your school feel like home.
How NC State Education Prepared Me for My First Year:
Townsend: NC State provided me with so much knowledge and understanding related to mathematics and best teaching practices. I entered my first year with a tool belt of technology resources, assessment tools and teaching methods to reach diverse populations. My math courses provided me with a deep understanding of mathematics, and my education courses helped me understand the need for standard-driven teaching. Through various professional development opportunities, I learned about how to best reach certain populations within our public schools and how to best collaborate with other education professionals. I am also incredibly thankful that NC State gets its education students into classrooms so early in their undergraduate career. Because I had the chance to practice teaching and observe many different teachers, I came into my own classroom with much more confidence and plenty of teaching resources.
Wilmer: The NC State College of Education gave me a great foundation to a wide range of curriculum. Coming into the school system with this background knowledge helped me feel more at ease with all the other pressures of being a first-year teacher. Also, having supportive and devoted professors throughout my four years in the College made a difference. The professors shared their passion for teaching with me, and the fact that I still keep in touch with many shows how much they care about students’ futures. Finally, having opportunities in Wake County prepared me more then I realized. Being able to observe, reflect, and teach in different schools in Wake County starting in my sophomore year opened my eyes to a lot of things.
What Being Named First-Year Teacher of the Year Means to Me:
Class of 2017
We featured Rebeka in our 2017 graduation coverage. Read her reflection on her time as a College of Education undergraduate student.
Townsend: It’s really difficult to put into words what receiving this award means to me. I know that I could’ve never gotten through this year on my own strength. I have been so blessed to have such great coworkers and supportive people outside of my school to lean on through the ups and the downs of the school year. There have definitely been days where I have doubted my abilities as a teacher and whether or not this job is meant for me. Through it all, I have learned so incredibly much about God’s faithfulness and receiving this award has really been confirmation that He has gifted me to be a teacher and in the classroom is where He wants me to be.
Wilmer: Receiving the Diane Kent-Parker First-Year Teacher Award for elementary schools means more than I can put into words. I am honored and proud to be able to represent Lynn Road Elementary School as well as Wake County. NC State has contributed a lot in preparing me as the teacher I am today. I love waking up being excited to go to school to teach and to have a class full of students who have learned and grown with me for the past year. I will forever remember this incredible first year.