English teacher Mary Kent Whitaker of Watauga High School has been chosen as the Watauga County Schools Teacher of the Year for 2014-15.
Her selection was announced Friday morning in a surprise visit to her classroom by Superintendent Dr. David Fonseca, Board of Education member Barbara Kinsey, Watauga High School Principal Marshall Gasperson, Whitaker’s husband Whit Whitaker, Human Resources Director Dr. Stephen Martin, and several additional representatives from the Watauga County Schools central office.
Responding to the announcement, Whitaker addressed her students, saying “It’s an honor and it’s an honor for you. I hope you feel that too. I wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for you guys.”
Dr. Fonseca told Whitaker “we’re so glad and so proud of you.” Dr. Martin also praised Whitaker for her work and congratulated her on being named WCS Teacher of the Year.
It is the second time Whitaker has been selected for this honor and she is the first two-time winner in the history of the Watauga County Schools. Her previous title as WCS Teacher of the Year was for the 2010-11 school year.
Mary Kent Whitaker has taught students for 38 years, including ten years at Watauga High School and four years at Hardin Park School. She completed both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at Appalachian State University and has achieved National Board Certification, the highest professional credential available in the teaching profession.
One component of the selection process for Teacher of the Year is a statement of teaching philosophy. In her statement, Whitaker identified the traits that characterize a distinguished teacher. Among the traits she mentions are the “facilitation of critical, higher-level thinking in the classroom,” “making connections between course materials and the world in which students live,” and being a teacher who is “always learning and who demonstrates this to her students.” WHS Assistant Principal Preston Clark noted some of the ways in which Whitaker exemplifies these traits and more in her classroom.
Clark commented that Whitaker is “really driven to improve, even with over 30 years of experience.” She is a great colleague at the high school and “a constant mentor to new and experienced teachers alike.” She “inspires students on a daily basis…engaging them as a guide and leading them to become independent thinkers.” Clark quoted praise of Whitaker from several of her students, including one that said she is “the most respected and student centered teacher I have ever known.” Clark also said of Whitaker that “she can’t retire until my kids get to the high school. My oldest child is 3 years old.”
The 2014-15 Teachers of the Year at the other eight schools in the WCS system include Melissa Miller of Bethel, Janet Orr of Blowing Rock, Cynthia Townsend of Cove Creek, Kirbi Bell of Green Valley, Erin Selle of Hardin Park, Lauren Dotson of Mabel, Susan Suddreth of Parkway, and Leslie Howser of Valle Crucis.
Teachers of the Year are chosen at each school by their professional colleagues. Teachers in all grade levels and subjects are eligible for the award and the nine Teachers of the Year are selected from a pool of close to 400 teachers in the WCS system.
Each school’s Teacher of the Year receives an award of $350 from the school system. As WCS Teacher of the Year, Whitaker will receive an additional $350 payment.
Local businesses have again donated generously to the recognition of all nine WCS Teachers of the Year and to WCS Principal of the Year Mary Smalling. The sponsoring businesses include Chetola Resort, Chick-fil-A, Stick Boy Bread Company, Panera Bread, Friendship Honda of Boone, AFLAC, Michael’s, Makoto’s, Cornerstone Bookstore, Blue Ridge Vision, and Bandana’s Bar-B-Q.
The selection process for the Teacher of the Year includes interviews, unannounced teacher observations in classrooms, and a review of the written statement of teaching philosophy prepared by each candidate. The committee making the selection includes teachers, school administrators, and Watauga Board of Education member Barbara Kinsey.
Whitaker succeeds current WCS Teacher of the Year Gina Holste, a third grade teacher at Valle Crucis.