Published by Laurie Pender on September 18, 2017
Teacher from Rockfish Elementary School Takes the Title
Fayetteville – “When we create a real difference in a student academically, emotionally or behaviorally, I feel we have accomplished what is sometimes not recognized by others but is more valuable to the future of our communities and world than a test score,” said Cumberland County Schools’ 2018 Teacher of the Year (TOY) Leslie Seals, a 4th-grade teacher at Rockfish Elementary School.
The announcement of the 2018 Cumberland County Schools’ (CCS) Teacher of the Year was made during an annual dinner in the Cumberland County Crown Ballroom tonight. The presentation took place in front of 86 Teacher-of-the-Year candidates, their guests, school administrators, School Board members, and business partners.
Seals received a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education (K-6) from East Carolina University. During her eight years in the classroom, she has also taught students in Richmond and Beaufort counties.
Seals said she was influenced to become a teacher by her mother and stepfather, who were both former administrators in the Harnett County Schools. “Growing up, I saw how important education was to them and the difference they made in children’s lives. They showed the passion they had for helping ALL students learn and [the importance of] leveling the playing field so that everyone was successful,” said Seals. She recalls assisting her stepfather with the Toys for Tots project and delivering the toys to the homes of children after school hours during the holidays. “I learned compassion,” said Seals. “I saw firsthand that sometimes we have no idea what kids experience outside the walls of the school.”
Through the years, this level of compassion has grown and enabled her to positively influence young lives. “My need to make a difference and having a heart for serving comes from my faith. My knowledge of His abundant grace helps me go into the classroom and extend it to my students. We start fresh each day and because I am forgiven, I can show them grace and patience.”
She recalls one year having a student who had eight siblings and lost his father in a wreck. Seals said the student had many obstacles that kept him from “accessing the curriculum,” but she realized that her challenge was not to teach him math, reading, science or social studies. “My challenge was to help him learn that he was important and that sadness is okay. He had to learn how to handle grief. I also learned that basic needs have to be met before learning can happen. Sometimes finding breakfast for him, socks, new clothes, and getting a hug was what it took to get him ready to learn. This student [eventually] showed so much growth academically,” said Seals. She recalls the student being made the school ‘fireman’ where he would help the principal during fire drills. Also, he took a field trip to the fire station with the guidance counselor. “This was our way of giving him goals and dreams beyond what he saw in his environment,” said Seals. She and her co-workers teamed up to “create a real difference” in the student’s life.
Seals also uses small group instruction to help ‘create a real difference’ and meet the needs of each student. “My students know I care when I meet with them in a group and work on what they each need. I can challenge, motivate, and intervene when needed to help each child be successful. I am also able to see the needs of my students more clearly when working with them in small groups,” said the educator.
Every year, Seals does an activity where she places a Band-Aid in the same place on everyone’s arm then, she asks if they have ever been hurt. Of course, numerous stories about injuries are shared. “At the end, we talk about how everyone needed a Band-Aid in different places, but we got them in the same place and it wasn’t very helpful to all students. Therefore, in our classroom, sometimes I need to do things differently for each student to ‘fix’ what they may have trouble with or to challenge them… This creates a community where students understand that we are all different and makes small groups even more powerful because they know I am working on what they need. I think this teaching style allows me to create an atmosphere that makes students excited about coming to school. I find the ability to see students enjoy learning new things one of my greatest rewards.”
Seals admits that she originally attended ECU with the intention of going to medical school; however, she realized that teaching was ‘her calling for making a difference.’ “Each day, I don’t heal someone who is sick, but I may change an attitude, teach a math skill that will help a child be successful or help a child read, which opens a window of opportunity for them. This will create our future leaders of our world … We teach because it is our calling. It is our passion and we must remember that, even when we struggle with challenges (in the classroom) each day!”
As the 2018 Teacher of the Year, Seals received:
· $300 and flowers from the Cumberland County Schools;
Other winners announced Monday evening were first runner-up Angelina Cobb from New Century International Middle School, who received $200 and flowers from the CCS, $100 from CISCC, and an award from the CCBOE; and second runner-up Talicia Smith from Douglas Byrd Middle School, who received $100 and flowers from the CCS, $100 from CISCC, and an award from the CCBOE. The 10 district winners were awarded an iPad and $100 from the CCS, and an award from the CCBOE. All TOY candidates received $100 from the CCS, a custom-framed certificate from the CCBOE, and two hours of C.E.U. credit.