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UCPS Teacher of the Year search narrows to top 10 finalists

Later this month, UCPS will hold its 21st Annual Teacher of the Year Banquet, and announce the 2014-15 UCPS Teacher of the Year.

With the search committee narrowing its search from 53 candidates to 10 finalists all vying for the title of Union County Public Schools 2014-15 Teacher of the Year, it's time to take a closer look at each finalist.

The 10 finalists are Jennifer Whitley, Forest Hills High School; Lindsey Arant, Marvin Ridge High School; Jaime Tejada, Monroe High School; Daniel Stanford, Parkwood Middle School; Ian Faires, Porter Ridge High School; Laurie Maddex, Sandy Ridge Elementary School; Stacey Hea, Shiloh Elementary School; Wendy Griffin, Unionville Elementary School; Tiffany Manley, Weddington High School; and Michelle Henry, Wingate Elementary School.

All 53 teachers of the year will be recognized in late April at the UCPS 21st Annual Teacher of the Year Banquet. During the banquet, one teacher will be named the 2014-15 UCPS Teacher of the Year.

Below are individual bios with a comments as to why they went into the teaching profession:

Question: What were the factors that influenced you to become a teacher?

Jennifer Whitley – is a Civics and World History teacher at Forest Hills High School, where she has taught since 2002. Prior to that, she taught at Piedmont High (1999-2001) and Anson Senior High Schools (1998-1999).

The factor that influenced me most to become a teacher was other master teachers. Teaching was a lifestyle in which I was immersed throughout my educational years. Growing up in Marshville, I spent a lot of extra time at Forest Hills High School with my mom, a Family & Consumer Sciences teacher. I saw her give so much of herself to her students. She wanted them to be successful academically but more importantly, she showed me that teachers care for and nurture the whole student. Whether she was working late at school, hosting club meetings at our home, or chaperoning various trips, she always let the students know that they were important and had value. Her actions impressed upon me the value of teachers who see the importance of each student being educated and helping each one tap into his or her own potential.


Lindsey Arant – has been an English teacher at Marvin Ridge High School since 2007. She teaches English I College Preparatory, Honors, Inclusion; English II College Preparatory; IB English, which is a two-year course spanning the junior and senior year. Prior to that, she English at Parkwood High School (2005 to 2007.)

I always wanted to be a teacher; even as a child, I would line up my dolls to create imaginary classrooms with sticker charts and lesson plans. I love everything about teaching, learning, and school which led me to create a Future Teachers of America club at MHS while I was a student there. I am a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and received an additional scholarship from the Retired Teachers of Union County. Teaching is a noble legacy in my family: many of my relatives teach or have taught in Union County or other parts of North Carolina. Most notably, my aunt and uncle worked hard to teach me the value of education and our profession. As a result, I dedicated the undergraduate
thesis I wrote on using comic books and graphic novels in the classroom to them.


Jaime Tejada -- is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Monroe High School where he has taught since 2006. Prior to that, he was an ESL teacher in Long Island City, New York from 1997-2006.

I believe I did not become a teacher. I was born a teacher. I grew up surrounded by teachers in my family starting with my mother who is now a retired elementary school teacher, three aunts and one uncle. However, my path to pursuing a teaching career opened up almost by accident. After attending a specialized technical high school in El Salvador where I earned a high school diploma with concentration in mechanical engineering, I was advised by my father to postpone my engineering degree and attend college to become an English as a Foreign Language Teacher in El Salvador to prepare to my eventual move to the United States. I decided to follow his lead ignoring that doing so would lead me to discovering my true passion in teaching.


Daniel Stanford – is a social studies teacher at Parkwood Middle School, where he has worked from 2004 until present.

My teaching career did not start in the traditional way. I was a history major destined for law school after graduation, something I had dreamed of for years. After graduation, however, my ambitions changed. Fresh out of college and looking for a job until graduate school, I spoke with my former high biology teacher. He was the principal at Parkwood Middle School and asked if I had considered becoming a history teacher. The rest, as they say, is history. Becoming a teacher was one of the most important decisions of my life and has come to define me. Over the past 10 years, my students have instilled in me a passion for learning, for understanding, and for caring. That passion now drives me to continue my education and to refine my teaching skills; to wake up at 3:30 a.m. with new ideas. Passion fuels my drive to be the best teacher I can be and it is passion that keeps me there.


Ian Faires – has been a music/band teacher at Porter Ridge Middle and High Schools since 2005. Prior to that he was a music/band teacher at Mooresville Intermediate Middle/High schools from 2000 to 2005, taught in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools in 2000 and at Zebulon B. Vance High School in 1999.
My desire to become a teacher began in high school. As a student in my high school band, I was drum major, the student conductor of the band. As the drum major of the band, I was given the task of teaching the music to the students and teaching the marching drill. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it! It was exciting to watch a group of my peers grow and develop a marching band show and to be able to perform it. From a very young age, I knew that I was going to work with children in some form or fashion. My original intention was to become a pediatrician, however I found a joy in teaching that I would have never known had I not been a drum major and have that opportunity afforded to me. Through this experience, I knew that being a teacher was the path that was set forth in front of me.


Laurie Maddex – has been a fourth-grade teacher at Sandy Ridge Elementary since 2012. Prior to that, she worked as a literacy facilitator at Rock Rest Elemetnary from 2011 to 2012; and a fourth-grade teacher at Goldboro Elementary Magnet School and Town and Country Elementary School.

My path to teaching was unconventional at best, and my purpose here continues to evolve. … Somehow, by accident or by design, I ended up in education, bringing my everything to my students every day. Throughout my career, the places that I’ve taught have shaped my priorities as a teacher. I began teaching in low-income schools, focused on students with limited English proficiency. I worked to gain a handle on LEP strategies and also strategies to bring up struggling readers and writers. This became my calling, and I’d open my classroom to whatever teacher wanted to see what was working. … However twisted and odd the path, it brought me to where I am now, and I believe that my students, their parents, and my own children are better for it.


Stacey Hea – has been a second-grade teacher at Shiloh Elementary since 2012. Prior to that she was a literacy facilitator at Sun Valley and Shiloh Elementary Schools (2011 to 2012). She has been a substitute teacher in both UCPS and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (2011); a curriculum specialist – literacy leader and first-grade teacher at Imagine Charter School in Weston, Fla. (2003 to 2006); and a kindergarten teacher at Oakland Park Elementary Title 1 School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (2001 to 2003).

The greatest factor that influenced me to become a teacher is my personal education experience. I never want a child to struggle through school like I struggled as a child. … I chose to earn a degree in Education because I have been the well - behaved student who appeared to be “getting it", yet I was experiencing frustration, embarrassment, and defeat. I became a teacher to help those who others give up on the struggling reader - the weak math student - the disinterested one who failed to participate or produce. I became a teacher to catch those students who slip through the cracks. I recognize them because I was one of them. I became a teacher to reach out and do for them what was not done for me. My greatest contribution is to encourage students to pursue their dreams and to provide insight to these students, their families, and my fellow colleagues who may not understand the disposition of these students.


Wendy Griffin -- has been the literacy coach in grades K-5 at Unionville Elementary School since 2007. Prior to that she taught fourth grade at Oakboro Elementary School from 1989 to 2007 and was an effective teacher-training instructor at Stanly Community College from 1997 to 2012.

Passion for learning was probably the greatest factor that influenced me to become a teacher. As a young child, my mother and I read books and worked together with a little chalkboard for countless hours until I started school. I can still remember the excitement I felt as I entered first grade and have loved school ever since. That passion for learning continued with me through middle and high school. When I applied for colleges, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I never wavered from that path, and later encountered a huge influence on my teaching career: Linda Wightman, my cooperating teacher. Her positive attitude, excellent classroom management and wonderful balance of structure and nurturing for students were instilled in me.


Tiffany Manley – has taught biology at Weddington High School since 2006. She teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Biology, Honors Biology-I and college prep Biology-I.
My mother is a teacher. When I was growing up, I was always very proud when my friends said things like “I had your momma in third grade and she was so hard, but I had fun.” I saw how hard she worked to plan and implement lessons for her students because I usually went to her classroom to do things for her when I exempted my exams in high school. My mother is the main reason I decided to become a teacher. I saw her love and passion for helping young children learn and I realized that she passed those gifts and that passion on to me.


Michelle Henry – has taught at Wingate Elementary School since 2005. She currently teaches EC inclusion in the fifth grade (since 2013). She has also taught EC inclusion in the fourth grade (2007 to 2013). She started her career at Wingate Elementary as a fourth-grade teacher (2005 to 2007).

I chose education as a career and life mission after exploring majors in psychology and creative writing in the area of children’s literature. Through those explorations I realized that my true calling was working with troubled youth and inspiring them to have a love of literacy, learning, and life. I was also inspired by my father. From my earliest memories and throughout my life I listened to my father changing the lyrics to popular songs in a silly way. As I studied education, I realized the power of using this talent to both engage students and cement concepts in their memory.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Apr 17, 2014 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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