Friday, April 5, 2024

Haywood County math teacher named 2024 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year

Heather Smith, a Haywood County Schools math teacher, is the 2024 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year. The announcement was made at a ceremony honoring Smith and eight other regional finalists today at the Umstead Hotel in Cary.
Raleigh, NC
Apr 5, 2024
2024 TOY Winner - Heather Smith

Heather Smith, a Haywood County Schools math teacher, is the 2024 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year. The announcement was made at a ceremony honoring Smith and eight other regional finalists today at the Umstead Hotel in Cary.

“Heather is a change agent for public education—both for her colleagues and for her students. I’m so impressed with how she values the importance of real-world application in day-to-day instruction and how she’s made it a priority to help students see it too,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt.

Smith has spent her entire career teaching in Haywood County Schools. She’s taught sixth and eighth grade math at Waynesville Middle School since 2019. Prior to that, she taught at Canton Middle School and Clyde Elementary School. Smith is a graduate of Western Carolina University and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

In her application materials, Smith shared that she believes it is essential to build positive relationships in the classroom. In her experience, students who feel loved and valued, and who are held to high expectations, are much more likely to feel safe enough to try new things and engage more deeply in the classroom. The importance of positive relationships extends to fellow educators, parents and the community, as well.

Dr. Trevor Putnam, superintendent of Haywood County Schools, echoed the same sentiments and praised Smith’s “excellent pedagogical skills and expertise,” as well as her “charisma, humility and caring heart.”

“Mrs. Smith has an insatiable love of students that can be seen by all she encounters. Her competitive nature drives her to be the best for her students each day and she is never content with past accomplishments or service to others,” he said.

Smith says that the question, “When am I ever going to use this in my life?” motivates her to approach math differently. She is passionate about helping her students understand why the skills they learn in the classroom are important, and she utilizes project-based learning to help them see how they will use these concepts in real life.

“I believe that allowing students to think for themselves, discover new things, engage in inquiry-based learning and take responsibility for their learning in the classroom is essential in building 21st century skills that will help them to excel outside the classroom,” Smith said.

She’s also a faculty sponsor for Haywood Middle School’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Smith uses FCA as an opportunity to connect her students to service opportunities in the community and within their school.

Smith will spend the 2024-25 school year representing and advocating for North Carolina’s teachers. She will have the opportunity to participate in a seminar at the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT), the National Teacher of the Year Conference and International Space Camp. She will also be able to attend the International Society for Technology in Education conference with support from the Digital Learning Initiative, as well as travel abroad through an endowment sponsored by Go Global NC. Smith will receive a mobile device from Lenovo, an engraved award, financial support to serve as a liaison for North Carolina Public Schools, a monetary award from Bojangles and a gift from Carolina Hunger Initiative. She will also receive a prize package and recognition during an NC State Athletics football game.

Throughout the 2024-25 school year, Smith will work alongside the eight additional regional Teacher of the Year finalists. These teachers were also recognized today:

  • Northeast: Anita Rubino-Thomas, Currituck County High School (Currituck County Schools)

  • Southeast: Nardi Routten, Creekside Elementary School (Craven County Schools)

  • North Central: Rachel Brackney, SouthWest Edgecombe High School (Edgecombe County Public Schools)

  • Sandhills: Jennifer Blake, Carthage Elementary School (Moore County Schools)

  • Piedmont Triad: Will Marrs, Davie County High School (Davie County Schools)

  • Southwest: Sarah Lefebvre, Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle School (Union County Public Schools)

  • Northwest: Erik Mortensen, Watauga High School (Watauga County Schools)

  • Charter School: Lee Haywood, Uwharrie Charter Academy

North Carolina has recognized outstanding teachers through its Teacher of the Year program since 1970. For more information on North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year recognition program, visit the program’s website. You also can follow the North Carolina Teacher of the Year finalists on Twitter at #NCTOYPOY.

With support from Equitable Advisors and PBS North Carolina, a recording of this year’s livestream of the Teacher of the Year event is available on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's YouTube channel

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