By BRAD RICH
Tideland News Writer
When Swansboro Elementary School fifth grade teacher Carrie Morris learned on Sept. 18 that she had been named Onslow County Teacher of the Year, the first words out of her mouth exemplified the qualities her principal said had earned her the award.
“I would not be here (accepting the award) if it were not for my great students, the staff here and my family,” she said as her 9-year-old daughter, Millie; Principal Lisa Peele; and Lesley Eason, assistant superintendent of the Onslow County School System; stood beside her so photographers could snap pictures.
“I couldn’t do it without all the awesome stuff you guys do every day,” she added, speaking directly to the beaming students in her classroom. “I’m really grateful, and I appreciate the opportunity to make a difference in Onslow County.”
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 just told the students and visitors that Morris was a team player.
“She builds relationships, is very compassionate to her students and she teaches to all diverse learning needs,” she said. “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.”
Peele said her own son, David, had Morris as a teacher and loved her, “and I do, too. She’s a hard worker … an ‘against-all-odds’ teacher.”
Friday, at the end of a week of school, Morris was still excited and eager to talk about teaching and about the community she has lived in and loved for 16 years.
“Swansboro kids are wonderful,” she said. “With the military influence, we have many students who lived in different countries and have a lot of experiences in different areas. They can open our eyes to what else is out there.
“Then we also have a lot of students who have lived here all their lives … and have been surrounded by relatives, grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. I never had that, growing up in a military family and moving around. But what we have here is a great mix; we have the best of it all.”
The small-town atmosphere helps her as a teacher, she said, as does the length of time she has been here.
“I’ve taught a lot of older brothers or sisters now, and I live right here right in the community and have gotten to know a lot of the families,” she said. “So I’ve interacted with a lot of the relatives. We’re neighbors. We run into each other at the post office or Food Lion and we talk and get to know each other.”
With newcomers, she is grateful for the requirement to have two conferences with parents each year, and is not hesitant to have more meetings if necessary: she’s got a lot of cell phone numbers.
“I try to have a very open class,” she said. “What I try to do with all the parents is identify the things that they are doing to support their children in school and support those.” And if there are things parents could do, but aren’t, she’s willing to suggest things to try.
She works with students in a similar manner.
“My philosophy is that I try to realize that we are all people and we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses,” she said. “My job is to help the students realize what they are good at and celebrate those things, and to help them realize what their weaknesses are and work together to improve those areas.”
Morris’s students clearly were happy for their teacher during the brief ceremony on Sept. 18. “Keep on going, Miss Morris,” one said after hearing that their mentor would move on to compete for teacher of the year in the southeast region of the state. “We love you,” said another.
Morris was selected after classroom visits of the five finalists by a committee of administrators, teachers, parents and county school board members.
Eason, who represented the county administration during the surprise presentation – complete with flowers and balloons – in the classroom, said she had watched Morris in action, and was impressed by both the teacher and the students.
“I hope you know how impressive you were, and we’re very proud of you,” she said to the students. “I was struck by some of the things Ms. Morris does, very naturally. She gave the students individual attention and checked where they were in the process. She was very patient in her instructions and her interactions with the students. She’s a very special kind of educator.”
Eason told the students that the Onslow County School System includes 37 schools, 25,000-plus students and around 2,200 teachers.
“It’s a big deal to be one of five finalists,” for county teacher of the year, she said. “It’s an even bigger deal to be the district teacher of the year.”
Millie, a fourth grader at the school, given the opportunity to say a few words, said simply: “You’re a really good teacher and a really good mom.”
Morris is a graduate of Lake Brantley High School in Florida. She earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree in elementary education from Elon University and received the Master’s Degree in elementary education in 2006 from 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.
When asked what her message would be to other teachers she replied, “Every student, every person, has a talent – a gift. It is our job as teachers to discover what that gift is. Find out what (each person) is really good at … and work on the things they are not so strong in.”
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