DURHAM — Alison Edwards says with the state of teacher pay she has thought about joining a new profession a few times.
But the fifth-year teacher’s love for teaching children has been too much to let her leave. Edwards was named the Durham Public School district’s 2014 Teacher of the Year award two weeks ago.
“I finally feel like I’m a good teacher after five years,” said Edwards, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the School for Creative Studies. “But I was pleasantly shocked (to win) just because there are so many great teachers in Durham Public Schools.
“It’s nice to have a little recognition here and there, and I just wish all the teachers could have this recognition because we all put in extra hours.”
Edwards was nominated by her peers and submitted a portfolio that showcased her work.
A Durham native and graduate of Riverside High School, Edwards said her career has always been dedicated to working with children. She worked with inner-city youth in Washington, D.C., as a volunteer for AmeriCorps, and helped establish a summer after-school program before coming back to Durham Public Schools in 2009.
Her first teaching job was at Brogden Middle School during the recession and freezes to teachers’ salaries. She joined the School for Creative Studies when it opened in the the fall of 2013, despite thoughts of changing her profession at such a tough economic time.
“I come to school and I have students that want to stay after and work on projects. I have students that are engaged in discussion. I see them getting what they’re supposed to be getting, and I don’t want to leave these kids,” Edwards said. “They are the future of North Carolina and our country, and I feel like this is a skill that I have that I want to continue to pour into these students.”
She was one of six finalists recognized at an awards banquet. When Edwards’ name was announced as the winner, her principal, Renee Price, said she was so excited she ran up to take a picture with her.
“I got a little bit choked up,” Price said. “I was just so proud of her. We all love her here. Her students love her. The parents love her.”
Price said Edwards is a good teacher because of her willingness to learn and to work collaboratively with her peers.
“She’s a problem-solver and a great example for anyone who teaches,” Price said. “She genuinely does it for the love of children.”
Before class starts, each student stands in a line waiting at the door. As each student walks in, he or she shakes Edwards’ hand as Edwards greets them with a smile. She said she does this to teach the students professionalism and to make sure every day starts with a positive interaction.
The desks are put together in groups because the class is working on a group project: a memorial that will show what they know about the Holocaust.
“I like to do project-based learning,” Edwards said. “I think you can really see what a student knows when they build something or make something. You can also make them think differently about it if they create a memorial. They can answer a multiple-choice question and they might get it right, but if they can think ‘what was the most important thing to remember about something’ (they can) then put that into a memorial to express how something symbolizes that.”
Many have resisted the Common Core curriculum since its implementation in 2012, criticizing its strict standards and testing practices. Test scores were significantly lower after its first year and some teachers say they feel they have to teach to the test.
Edwards said she hasn’t felt that pressure and that Common Core has made things easier for her. She uses her projects as tests of how much students have learned about a particular topic.
“The Common Core is trying to help our students become better thinkers and better citizens of the world,” Edwards said. “I think that those standards and presenting them this way will help them to understand it better than to just drill, drill, drill events in them. We’re teaching the students how to think and how to learn and we’re not worried about how they do at the end of the year, but how much they’ve grown as a thinker and learner.”
Zora Jones, 13, a former charter student, said Edwards has helped her progress as a student and thinker.
“She keeps us on task and motivates us,” Jones said. “She’s strict, but I know she’s doing it for our benefit.”
On the front board reads the words “13 days till liberation.” It indicates how many days are left until summer break.
“We studied the liberation of the Holocaust, so to help them learn what the word means I put it up there,” Edwards said. “That day there were maybe 10 people who knew what the word meant and now they all know it means freedom.”
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1