Whiteville City Schools teachers of the year for 2017-2018 are Katie Worthington, Bruce Ketcham, Heath Conner, Katherine Hyatt and Jami Hinson.
Whiteville City Schools announced five teachers of the year for 2017-2018 at a school board meeting May 8 at the schools’ administrative office. All five, with their principals, were honored at a luncheon on May 18.
Central Middle School
“I have always had a love for history and working with young people,” said Bruce Ketcham, who teaches sixth-grade social studies and English language arts. A graduate of Youngstown State University and Grand Canyon University, Ketcham worked in Ohio and Pennsylvania before settling in Whiteville.
Ketcham quotes Thomas Jefferson, who said, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
He cites as major influences his mother, his former employer Chef Jay Cruz, his seventh grade social studies teacher and his mentor Sandra Jones-Hill, who “influenced me to be the best teacher I can every day.”
In his free time, Ketcham is “a huge fan” of the Pittsburgh Pirates and enjoys listening to the music of Behind the Nineball. He and his wife Miranda have three children: Zoeymarie, Zander and Katherine.
Ketcham’s favorite thing about teaching is “interacting with the students.” His least favorite thing is “when people who are not educators make important decisions for educators without the input of educators.”
Whiteville Primary School
Now in her fifth year of teaching first grade, Katie Worthington previously taught fifth grade in Robeson County for five years. She is a graduate of State University of New York College at Oneonta and of SUNY’s University at Albany.
“First grade is a pivotal year in a child's education,” said Worthington. “The foundational academic skills students taught at this level set them up for the rest of their education. In addition to academic skills, students are developing responsibility, independence, and life skills, which are just as important as the academic skills.”
In fact, Worthington’s own career path was already taking shape when she was a first grader. It was that year, she said, that she began saying she wanted to be a teacher some day.
Her mother was a major influence on her choice.
“The most influential teacher growing up happened to be my mom. Not everyone gets to say their mom taught them, but my siblings and I got to witness my mom's love of teaching. She worked endlessly to support her students' passion for music and the arts, even if that meant working beyond the typical school day hours.”
Although Worthington says, “There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done,” she enjoys cooking, golfing, date nights with her husband Jared and “chasing after” their 3-year-old son Camden.
Whiteville High School
At 40 years of age, Heath Conner felt that God had begun to shut the door on his well-established career in the construction industry in order to lead him in a new direction.
“I have always had a passion to work with young people and teaching seemed a great fit. I applied online one day and was hired the next.”
Conner, who received his degree in accounting from UNC-Wilmington, teaches Career and Technical Education Business Courses.
He sees his subject matter as relevant to students’ future in many ways. “Our mission statement at WHS is “Empowering all students to reach their maximum potential for lifelong learning and productive citizenship.” Every citizen needs to handle their own “business” in a way that is productive and fruitful. Business encompasses all walks of life from paying your own bills at home to the way you treat others in any environment.”
Two years ago Conner also accepted the call to pastor Emerson Original Freewill Baptist Church. He is thankful to his wife Kellie and children Emmie and Luke for helping him embrace his mid-life career change.
“Some students will be the first to tell you that I accuse them of giving me heartburn but the same will also tell you that I’m there for them,” said Conner. “In Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech he said ‘If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day.’ Teenagers will move you to laugh, think, and sometimes cry. I love the opportunity to be a part of preparing them to reach their goals.”
North Whiteville Academy
Also coming to teaching by a side route after 18 years in the business world is North Whiteville Academy science teacher Jami Hinson.
“Science is everywhere you look,” he said. “Whether you're in medicine, farming, engineering or technology. No matter what you choose to pursue as an occupation, chances are science applies.”
Hinson teaches biology, physical science, ecology and earth science.
Although he had degrees from Southeastern Community College and UNC-P, Hinson said he “had no idea how to be an effective teacher” during his first year at NWA. He gives credit to his fellow teachers and principal Susan Smith for giving him direction.
“I am very fortunate to teach in a school system where I feel comfortable asking my peers for help or ideas when I run into a challenging situation. I have said it before but I would probably be out of education if not for Susan Smith!”
Hinson uses analogies from physical science to describe what most enjoys about his work. “When that light comes on and the students get excited it’s really fun to be a teacher.
“There is just something about the energy of the students that keeps my batteries charged and wanting to be part of that excitement.”
When not teaching, Hinson coaches, hunts, works in his yard and spends time with wife Donna, daughter Madison and son Will.
Edgewood Elementary School
The science lab teacher for city third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders grew up in a family that valued education highly. Both of her grandmothers, Mary Williamson and Theresa Foy Hall, taught in Hallsboro. “These two women had a profound effect on my life and I always knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said Hyatt.
With two degrees from UNC-Wilmington, Hyatt worked in New Hanover County for one year before joining the Edgewood staff as a fifth grade language arts teacher. “I learned as much from my students those first seven years as they did from me,” she said.
For the past ten years she has staffed the science lab, to which every student at Edgewood goes once a week for an hour-long lesson. “My job is to provide hands-on experiments that help the students to better understand the curriculum being taught in their classrooms,” she said.
“I feel that science is important in its content because people make better decisions when they understand how the natural world works,” she said.
The process of critical thought, however, is an even higher benefit. “By having the students develop questions, research, and design experiments I am teaching students a life-long skill that will help them become productive members of our community.”
Teaching keeps Hyatt’s own thinking skills sharp, she said, as she strives “to make each year better than it was the year before.”
A Farm Bureau ‘Ag in the Classroom’ workshop showed her “the hands on possibilities that a focus on agriculture provides for students. We created our afterschool club, Jr. Future Farmers of America, and partnered with the WHS FFA to bring unique experiences to Edgewood. Jr. FFA has the support of the students, staff and community.”
When off duty, she loves to travel, read and spend time with husband Scott and their children Katelyn and Creek.
They keep coming back
These exemplary teachers, chosen by their peers, all said that interacting with students keeps them enthusiastic about their work.
As Worthington said, “I love this work because I love my students! I love going in every day feeling challenged to make them successful.”
When asked, they also shared the sides of their work that frustrate or discourage them.
The most difficult thing, said Conner, is “that I can’t control what is outside the classroom door. I want every kid that comes through my door to believe that they have the same opportunity to excel and grow as young men and women, but when they leave out the door not every kid feels that they have the same opportunities as their peers.”
Cumbersome government-mandated busy-work, Hyatt said, often “does not positively impact student learning. Anything that pulls the teacher’s time and energy away from students shouldn’t be a part of teaching.”
All of the representatives agree with Conner that what keeps them returning to the classroom year after year is much more than “the necessities of life (food and mortgage.) It’s the challenge of making a difference – the right difference – in young people’s lives.”
“I return to the classroom each year for the students,” Hyatt said. “They bring me hope, joy, and laughter. So many people are worried about the next generation, but when I work with them I am encouraged. Our community has a bright future and should feel proud of the young people we are raising.”
Said Worthington, “I have a desire to continue growing as an educator. If I'm not pushing myself to become a better teacher, I don't belong in a classroom anymore.”