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Wake County’s Diane Kent-Parker First-Year Teacher of the Year Sallie Allen ’20MAT Recognized for Focus on Flexibility, Advocating for Future Educators

When Sallie Allen ’20MAT was nominated to be a Wake County Public School System 2020-2021 Diane Kent-Parker First-Year Teacher of the Year, her third-grade students were paying attention. So, when it was announced over the loudspeaker at Hunter Magnet Elementary School, in Raleigh, that Allen won the award, her students couldn’t contain their excitement.

“I walked back into my classroom, and my kids just absolutely shouted for joy,” Allen said. “They were like ‘Yes! She got it! She got it! They were super excited.”

Her career as an educator and her relationships with her students both began when Hunter Magnet Elementary returned to in-person classes for the first time since the pandemic. Allen spent the first days of in-person teaching helping students adjust to wearing masks and social distancing. Then, when cases spiked in the winter, she helped them adjust to learning online.

“It takes effort to adjust your learning style,” Allen said. “To go from waking up and going out to the bus stop to walking down the stairs in your pajamas and logging on to see Ms. Allen say, ‘Good morning!’ on a Google Meet.”

For her Diane Kent-Parker First-Year Teacher of the Year essay, Allen was given the prompt: “What would you tell your college self about teaching during a pandemic and teaching virtually?” With a year’s worth of first-hand experience, Allen said her essay first emphasized the importance of flexibility and always being ready to learn, even in difficult and unpredictable situations.

Allen also wrote about how close she came to not teaching at all. She said she had always wanted to be a teacher, but at one point she had bought into a mentality that bright students go into other fields. An internship experience at the UNC Children’s Hospital changed her mind.

“That was when it clicked,” Allen said. “That was when I realized, ‘You want to teach. This is your calling. This is what you’re made for.’”

The rest of her essay focused on advocating for those who are thinking about becoming teachers.

“We need more incentives for young, bright people to come into education,” Allen said. “I want to encourage people who are younger than me to pursue education. I’m half a year in, and I’m already seeing that I’ve hit the jackpot with how amazing people are and how committed they are to their work.”

When Allen thinks about commitment, she thinks about the commitment she makes every day to her third-graders.

“The bottom line of why I chose education is the children,” Allen said. “I am a relational person who sees each day in the classroom as an opportunity to further relationships with these kids. Now more than ever, they need an advocate. They need someone who is on their team rooting for them both academically and socially-emotionally.”

And for Allen, it was her time with the NC State College of Education that prepared her to be an advocate for her students as a first-year teacher.

“The strong relationship the NC State College of Education has with Wake County Public Schools is unmatched,” Allen said. “Being able to be placed in a school throughout my whole program and going there weekly, building relationships with teachers while I was still in my program, really equipped me for my first year of teaching. I truly cannot imagine having gone anywhere other than NC State.”