By BRAD RICH
Tideland News Writer
In a surprise ceremony at the end of the school day Tuesday, Swansboro Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Carrie Morris learned she had been chosen as North Carolina’s Southeast Region Teacher of the Year.
The announcement was made in the school’s gym in front of the entire staff and the whole student body – several hundred beaming, happy faces serving as counterpoint to news last week from an elementary school in Connecticut – by SES Principal Lisa Peele; Darcy Grimes, a Watauga County third-grade teacher who won the statewide award; and Dr. Kathy Spencer, superintendent of the Onslow County School system.
Morris was joined on the stage by, among others, her husband, Curtis, and her daughter, Millie, also a student at the school.
The southeast region of the state includes, in addition to Onslow, Sampson, Duplin, Wayne, Pender, Lenoir, Greene, Brunswick, New Hanover, Craven, Pamlico, Jones and Carteret counties.
Grimes said that Morris was chosen in part because she believes, and demonstrates every day, that it is her job “to help all students to recognize their strengths while challenging them to overcome their weaknesses.”
She noted that Morris creates a classroom atmosphere in which all of the students “feel safe … to express themselves and (know that) they will be treated with mutual respect.”
Students, she said, had described Morris as “awesome, thoughtful, special, caring and kind, loving and motivational,” among other superlative adjectives.
Spencer praised not only Morris, but all the teachers at SES, for creating a family atmosphere in which learning can thrive.
“My hope for you,” she said to the students, “is that you will take advantage every day of the opportunities … they give to you. She (Morris) represents not just Onslow County, but the whole southeastern region of North Carolina, because she does her very best for each and every one of you.”
As Morris took the microphone, the students and staff gave her a thunderous round of applause, even louder than the one the kids had given when they thought – after singing Christmas songs, including “Jingle Bells” – that the special assembly guest just might be … Santa Claus.
Morris, as she had been earlier this year during a ceremony when she won Onslow County Teacher of the Year, was characteristically modest and spread the credit to the school staff and, especially, to the students.
“That’s why I’ve been successful: because all of you come here every day happy and excited to learn,” she said.
She also noted the entire school has a family atmosphere in which if someone doesn’t feel well or is having a bad day, others know it and give out hugs and find other ways to help each other.
“That’s why we’re successful at Swansboro Elementary School,” she said.
Peele, widely credited for turning around Swansboro Elementary, in part by inspiring positive attitudes in students, staff and teachers in the past few years, had told students and visitors during the Onslow ceremony earlier this year that Morris is a team player.
“She builds relationships, is very compassionate to her students and she teaches to all diverse learning needs,” she said then. “She is a great influence and a great motivator to all students. She is a team player, a go-getter and she is willing to be flexible and do anything asked of her when needed — she is the whole package.”
Morris is a graduate of Lake Brantley High School in Florida. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in elementary education from Elon College in North Carolina, and received a master’s degree in elementary education in 2006 from the UNC-Wilmington. She taught school in Alamance County before moving to Swansboro to teach in 1997. She taught first and second grade until receiving her Master’s Degree, when she began teaching fifth grade.