A tiny bell with the word “Believe” sits on the desk of Jessica Richardson ‘15, ‘22MSA as a reminder of her “why.” It’s a reminder to “believe in myself and to challenge my students to believe in themselves.” And it’s that commitment to her students that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Richardson, a biology teacher and head of the science department at Nash-Rocky Mount Early College High School, was named the 2020-21 Nash County Teacher of the Year.
About Jessica Richardson
Hometown: Hollister, North Carolina
Role: Biology Teacher and Head of the Science Department, Nash-Rocky Mount Early College High School in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Secondary Science Education, NC State College of Education
Why She Chose Education: “I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. I remember as a kid playing school with my stuffed animals and then forcing my little brother to be my student. I like to say that education has always been my passion.”
Her Advice to Aspiring Teachers: “Recognize that the decisions you make in the classroom each day have a lasting impact on the students you teach. Being a teacher is such a powerful, influential career and you have to have the heart, skill and will to do it effectively.”
“I am truly honored. This award has been a confirmation that I was meant to be an educator and that my hard work is valued and appreciated,” she said.
Richardson has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember — playing school with her stuffed animals as a kid and forcing her younger brother to be her student. Through the NC State College of Education, Richardson was able to foster that passion and achieve her goal.
As a member of the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program and the Native American Student Affairs organization (Multicultural Student Affairs), Richardson found her home at NC State, where she earned her degree in secondary science education with a concentration in biology.
“Science has always been my favorite subject. In high school, I fell in love with biology. It is absolutely my favorite branch of science,” she said. “I enjoy seeing my students light up and become intrigued by the science that I love so much, or students who have had no interest in science start to consider careers in science as an option for them because of my class.”
Now in her sixth year of teaching, Richardson has been inspired by several mentors to delve into curriculum and explore educational leadership. She is pursuing a Master of School Administration and was selected to participate in the Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA) at NC State, a principal preparation program.
“I knew that NC State would more than prepare me to go into educational leadership. The NELA program is exemplary and is unmatched in leadership preparation,” she said.
Through her NC State experiences, Richardson has recognized the importance of community and that “in order to teach someone, you first have to get to know that person. No student cares about what you teach until they know that you care.” And she carries that with her every day.
She also knows firsthand the struggles that her high school students face every day, which is why, she says, she chooses her students over standards. Richardson learned from her own experiences and personal challenges that not all students come from backgrounds that have enabled them to succeed.
“I had to figure out how to navigate college on my own, all while dealing with things like where I was going to go and stay during school breaks,” she said. “From my experience, I know how significant my role is in addressing and acting on inequities my students face. I recognize that I have a responsibility to help my students learn how to navigate beyond high school and succeed despite the challenges they face.”
As a teaching fellow, Richardson and her fellow teaching fellows were each given a tiny bell from Michael Clinkscales ‘98, ‘02, ‘12, NC State College of Education board member and former director of NC State’s Teaching Fellows Program, as a play on The Polar Express. In that moment he told them he “believes in us and how important it is that we believe in the work that we do and the students we teach. He told us that if we are ever lost and need a reminder of that, to just ring the bell.” Every day, Richardson tries to remember to believe in herself and her students.