ELIZABETHTOWN — For the second year in a row, a teacher from East Bladen was named Bladen County Schools’ Teacher of the Year, the honor this year going to science teacher Cheryl West.
“I was very surprised to find out,” said West. “It means a lot to me than that they would have that much confidence in me to represent them as teacher of the year.”
Every year, the staff at each of the schools in Bladen County vote on the teacher they would like to be a representative from their school in the system-wide recognition. Those 13 teachers then submit information to a panel that interviews them and selects a county-wide winner.
A Bladen County native, West graduated from Bladenboro High School and then went on to attend The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science with a concentration in education. She has spent the last 19 years educating youth, and 18 of those years have been at East Bladen. She is, however, no stranger to awards, as she was named East Bladen’s Teacher of the Year in 2002.
“The students love her,” said East Bladen Assistant Principal Victoria Clark. “When she won Teacher of the Year, the students all got together and had a party for her to celebrate.”
That time with students is, according to West, one of the joys of teaching.
“What I probably like best (about teaching) is interacting with young people — just being able to see and mentor young people, to see them grow and be successful, to read about them in the paper that they are doing well for themselves, being able to keep up with them after they leave, and have them call me or see me on the street and tell me how well they are doing, to see how they are doing in other classes — anything like that is what I love about being a teacher — to see them get better and better every day,” she said.
The love she has for her students must be evident to them, because West described her relationship with them this way: “I have a great and open relationship with my students. They know that I will help them in any way and that I’m here for them — before school, after school, if they see me outside of school — and that I’m the same person outside of school as I am in school, so there are no surprises.
“I hold them to a high expectation,” West added. “I know that they can be successful, and I treat them all that way. I feel like they’re my own children, and I expect them to be just as successful as I expect my children to be, and I want them to do well in everything they do.”
The students must be doing well, because school staff have taken notice.
“She turns students into leaders,” Clark stated. “She cares about them, forms relationships with them, and encourages them to learn.”
So what makes a good teacher, according to someone who has been recognized as such?
“I think a good teacher needs to be student centered,” West explained. “They need to be focused on students, and not just a certain student, but all students. They need to guide and direct their students in every possibly way — not just on an educational level, but on an ethical and moral level, because life isn’t just about education — it’s about how to be a good person.
“You can teach morality by how you carry yourself,” she went on to say. “I think it has a lot to do with how you treat people you work with — how you treat the lunch ladies and custodians and, if you see trash, you don’t mind getting down there and picking it up. You can actually show your moral and ethical and religious views in how you carry yourself. Students see that, and they ask questions.
“We’re blessed to be in Bladen County,” West added about modeling morality. “It’s wonderful to work in a county that is not so staunch that we have to be close-minded and close-lipped. We’re blessed to live in a county that’s so supportive that way.”
West’s next step is a regional competition, for which she must construct a portfolio and conduct an interview. She said that she is not sure yet of the date for the regional competition.
“We’re very proud to be represented by Mrs. West,” Clark said. “She represents the county well, and we’re very proud of her.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.