Teacher of Year Builds Relationships
Tracy Metcalf didn’t always want to be a teacher.
When the Union Pines social studies instructor graduated from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania with a degree in political science and a minor in secondary education, she hoped to go into the U.S. Foreign Service.
“The idea of teaching facts in a box didn’t appeal to me,” Metcalf said. “But I gradually realized that it didn’t have to be that way.”
Metcalf saw her career come full circle April 28 when she was named Moore County’s 2011-2012 Teacher of the Year at an awards ceremony.
Metcalf, who has been teaching for 22 years, said the award represents the strong relationships that she has built with both students and teachers over the past seven years at Union Pines.
“It was a big surprise,” she said. “It’s nice to be appreciated and recognized by your colleagues. That’s the most meaningful thing about it. I’m glad to represent Moore County at the regional level.”
As a U.S. history and civics teacher, Metcalf said she strives to make the past relevant for her students, who are sometimes less concerned with what’s going on in the world around them.
“It’s still hard for them to figure out why they should care,” she said. “But at the same time, they are interested and they do want to know more.”
Specific names and dates are less important than the overall implications of historical events that Metcalf hopes will remain with students when they leave her classroom.
She said she wants students to interpret and apply information rather than regurgitate facts.
“Do you need to know every fact? No,” she said. “You do need to know how to find the facts and how to use them.”
Metcalf also challenges her students to evaluate the material and question it.
“History is about taking a stand and being able to defend it,” she said. “I want them to think, and I want them to be creative because that’s what I think will be more helpful [in the future].”
She admits that some students are timid to express their interpretations.
“Sometimes, they’re afraid to think,” she said. “They don’t want to be wrong.”
Metcalf said she counters those insecurities by acting as a “learning leader,” who leads the education process and learns with students by creating a classroom environment where students can feel comfortable expressing and arguing their views respectfully.
Metcalf also works to help students connect current world events to the time periods they study.
In the last few days, Metcalf has held discussions with students about the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, asking them to consider how previous events and the actions of past leaders could have set precedents for the mission.
“Sometimes, it’s hard for them to see the parallels, but it’s interesting to see their take,” she said.
Many times, students bring strong viewpoints to the classroom, which leaves the potential for heated discussions.
Metcalf emphasizes to students that they can disagree on a topic, but argue about it in a way that doesn’t get personal.
“It’s how you ask the questions and how you direct the comments as to where the kids are going to go,” she said. “All I can do is present the facts and let them be open to an argument. It’s OK for all of us to hold a different opinion.”
Metcalf creates this environment by getting to know each student individually and adapting her instruction methods to meet the needs of her class.
“The relationships I build with students determine whether or not they’re going to learn from me,” she said.
Metcalf discovered that education is more about the importance of building strong relationships while working as a program guide at the Close Up Foundation in Washington, D.C. She said the experience contributed to her desire to go into teaching.
The nonprofit organization hosts students from all over the country for a week of intensive instruction in civics and American government.
There, Metcalf saw students who were considered low performers in the traditional classroom blossom once she engaged them on their level.
Metcalf adds that the relationships she maintains with her colleagues have also helped her become a strong teacher.
“We don’t do anything alone,” she said. “Education is a team effort. When we forget that, and we isolate ourselves, we cease to be real educators. The better relationships you have with your colleagues, the better teacher you are.”
Robin Calcutt, Union Pines assistant principal, says Metcalf is a teacher who engages her students.
“She exemplifies dedication to her students, as well as her colleagues as a mentor and with good teaching principles,” she said.
Calcutt referenced Metcalf’s willingness to help head activities at school, such as mentoring new teachers, staff development and even founding a guitar club for students.
Metcalf is currently the advisor for the school’s brand new speech and debate program, in which she works with students every day after school as they learn how to formulate arguments for competitions.
Next fall, Metcalf plans to serve as the football team’s academic coach to help students maintain a strong academic standing on the playing field.
“She never says no,” Calcutt said. “She understands some of the challenges that students bring to the classroom.”
She added that Metcalf’s ability to directly engage her students with historical artifacts and unconventional activities also makes her a strong educator.
“Tracy’s class is all hands-on activities, where students manipulate historical information,” Calcutt said. “She brings history to life by involving her students.”
Metcalf takes her accolades in stride. She believes that constant reflection is a necessary element in determining what works in the classroom.
“You have to sit there and say, ‘What went well today? Where am I leading kids?’” she said.
Later in the year, Metcalf will go on to represent Moore County in the Sandhills/South Central regional Teacher of the Year competition.
Though the recognition was a big surprise, Metcalf says she’s more focused on preparing her students for end-of-course exams in last three weeks of the school year.
“I’m a drill sergeant at this point,” she said with a laugh.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story