Jennie Hawk, a first-grade teacher at Ibraham Elementary, has been named this year’s Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools Teacher of the Year! After graduating from West Forsyth High School, Jennie attended Appalachian State University and transferred to UNC Greensboro to obtain her bachelor’s degree in science/special education. She completed her student teaching at Ibraham Elementary School and was offered a job when she graduated.
“I taught students with behavioral and emotional disabilities for the first seven years at Ibraham, and then transitioned into the regular education classroom,” said Jennie. “This is my fourth year teaching first grade. All 11 of my teaching years have been at my current school. During my time in special education, I became a nationally board-ertified teacher.”
While it may seem like being named Teacher of the Year just happens, the campaign is actually quite intense. “The process for being named WSFCS Teacher of the Year has been a journey that started back in December and continued through May,” said Jennie. “The journey started within my own school. Each elementary, middle and high school selects a teacher within its own school as the Teacher of the Year. My school chose me! Each teacher that was selected within his or her school completes a portfolio that is submitted and reviewed by the district’s Teacher of the Year committee. From there, the committee selects the top 10 teachers [who] are observed teaching in the classroom by the committee members. These observations could take place one to seven different times and are unannounced. Based on the observations, the committee then selects the top four finalists, [who] are interviewed by the committee, and a decision is made. Whew!”
After making it through the first couple rounds, Jennie began to get excited about the possibility of being named Teacher of the Year! “There are a ton of amazing educators in our district, and I honestly just did not think I would be selected, so it absolutely was unexpected and a huge surprise,” said Jennie. “My family actually knew about it ahead of time, so they could make plans to be there for the big announcement. I had family that drove in from out of town, family that took off work, and even one of my Pastors came, which reflects their support and excitement for everything that has happened. My co-workers have been supportive and encouraging throughout the whole process. They truly are my school family and have helped shape me into the educator I am today. The other day, one of my co-workers came by to congratulate me again and thank me. He was at a local Walmart and had on his school ID badge. He was stopped by someone while shopping who said, ‘Hey, you work at Ibraham. That’s where the WSFCS Teacher of the Year is from!’ My co-worker said he was proud to teach at Ibraham!”
Jennie wears many hats in the classroom to make sure she gives her students a well-rounded education. “I believe I make a difference for my students because of the investments I make into their lives as a whole child,” said Jennie. “I am not just there to teach them academics and help fill in their academic deficits. Most of the students I teach come to me with social and emotional deficits as well, and it is my job to pour into those cracks. When I walk into the classroom, I am not just Jennie Hawk, the teacher. I am Jennie Hawk the actress, advocate, cheerleader, mediator, singer, entertainer, therapist, visionary and teacher. Relationships and developing a rapport with my students sets the tone that we are a ‘school family,’ and as a school family, we flourish, grow and succeed. I also believe I make such a difference for my students, because I bring high energy and engagement 180 days of the year. They know that Mrs. Hawk on day one is going to be the same Mrs. Hawk on day 180.”
Jennie said one of her biggest pieces of advice is for teachers to develop their own creative teaching tools. “I would encourage other teachers to be themselves and develop their own craft,” said Jennie. “Teachers can be inspired by other educators but, at the end of the day, it’s what is going to work for your classroom and for your students. I would encourage teachers to be bold in their classrooms and their pursuits to grow and shape the minds of our students. Step out of the box; be creative. Don’t be afraid of change. Our world is constantly evolving and changing, and, as educators, we should, too. Love what you do—passion is contagious. Teaching is the one profession that all other professions stem from. The teaching profession is not for the faint-hearted and every day is not rainbows, butterflies and kittens. Teachers often have to go deep into the trenches, but the seeds sown into a child’s life, relationships built and student growth make it worth it. Teachers can and do make an impact that causes an endless ripple effect.”
Congratulations, Jennie Hawk!