Following her first year as a math teacher at Smith High School in Greensboro, Kenyona Bethea was moved to tears when she found out that she had been selected as the Guilford County Schools Rookie Teacher of the Year.
Bethea, who is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Teaching through the Department of Teacher Education and Higher Education in UNC Greensboro’s School of Education, heard of the award at the start of her first year in the classroom when a photo of the current honoree was shown at her orientation session.
She said, “I thought to myself, ‘I would love to win that, but I have no idea what I’m doing.’ So, to go from wanting this award, but doubting I would even be in the running to actually winning the award has truly amazed me.”
The recognition provided Bethea with validation of her decision to enter public education saying, “Every accomplishment I’ve had has come through incredible difficulty. My life in general has been difficult, so to have a moment like this after questioning if I was in the right field, if I was good enough for this job, I take it as another sign that I’m on the right path.”
Bethea was seeking a position as an elementary school teacher as her daughter prepared to enter the public school system, but after not securing any such position opened her search up to middle and high schools. The day after submitting an application at Smith she was contacted for an interview that led to her position teaching math.
“I’ve dreamed of working in education since elementary school,” said Bethea. “I would often ‘play school’ with my older and younger sisters, and I would teach my younger sister what I knew. Teaching is a means for me to do so much of what I love in one position. Exploring math, getting to know people, helping others achieve a goal, being creative, and making a difference are all things that I am able to do as a teacher.”
Bethea decided to enroll at UNCG and as part of the Math and Science Teachers of Tomorrow (MST2) program after attending an information session about the program and its requirements. MST2 is a partnership between the UNCG School of Education, the Institute for Partnerships in Education (IPiE), and Guilford County Schools that helps to train and retain pre- and in-service math and science teachers.
The program has already had an impact on Bethea. “I have become a much better teacher since joining this program. Every course has extended my understanding of what I do and deepened my practice. Honestly, every time I leave the UNCG campus from one of my courses, I feel energized and inspired to try new things in the classroom. I’m able to see my teaching grow rapidly and in real time. This is not only because of my professors, but also the other MST2 cohort 2 members. Their experiences and perspectives help me grow, and they give me a special sense of community in this space.
“My time at UNCG has had me pumped! I can’t deny that I’m tired, juggling full-time teaching, full-time studies, and full-time parenting. However, there is not a single day that I leave class feeling drained. The professors and courses in my program are wonderful. The professors deliver the content in digestible ways. The content itself drives me to be better each day.”
Now fully immersed in her role at Smith, Bethea encourages her colleagues to show their students that they too are curious and care about the lives of students. She feels that teachers need to work to develop trust and relationships with their students. That trust will lead to the students seeking out assistance and an openness to learn.
Bethea said, “Being a teacher is like being a tree. Trees provide a necessary and delicate service to the planet that is often underappreciated. Trees withstand the most powerful storms by supporting one another. Trees continue to grow and have no limits on that growth. As a teacher, you will be in a space where you will always have significant value, where you will always need support, and where you will always have room to grow. If you are considering joining the team, then please know that you are entering a demanding, yet massively rewarding career. Remember to take care of yourself first, and never allow yourself to stop growing.”
With a successful start to her teaching career, Bethea has planted her strong roots and is beginning her skyward growth. She may still be a sapling, but her attitude, determination, and dedication will help her continue growing, climbing higher and higher with no limits on where she may go.