R. BROWN MCALLISTER — Some educators are meant to be teachers, but others want something a little bit more.
Emily Wagoner, a third-grade teacher at R. Brown McAllister, is on the path to something more.
Wagoner is an impressive teacher. That’s why she is one of five finalists for Cabarrus County Schools Teacher of the Year after being nominated by the staff at R. Brown McAllister despite this being her first year at the school.
But she wants more. She loves teaching her students and seeing them take in information and grow, but she wants to make an even bigger impact as an administrator.
When talking to her principals it is pretty clear this career path makes perfect sense.
“She’s amazing, hardworking and dedicated, but she probably holds herself to higher standards than anyone else possibly could,” R. Brown McAllister Principal Jessica Blanchard said.
Tara Butch is now the principal at Rocky River Elementary, but she just transitioned there in February after spending the first part of the school year at R. Brown McAllister. She raves about Wagoner’s leadership.
“I will tell you she surpassed my expectations as a teacher,” Butch said. “She is a teacher leader through and through but more than that she just loves kids.
“This summer she worked with her whole grade level which was brand new to R. Brown, not new to teaching, but new to R. Brown, and she was setting up meetings and sharing resources in June with her teammates and she was sending me notes from a meeting they had at Panera Bread and she said, ‘Just so you can see, here’s our meeting agenda!’
“She’s just so organized and her love for kids truly shows in everything that she does. From the way that she plans to the way that she delivers instruction to even working with other teachers, she is by far one of the best that I have ever seen and been around.”
These are compliments often seen for teachers who have been spending a lifetime as educators, but it can be very surprising to learn Wagoner is 28 years old and has been teaching for just six years.
She is the youngest of the five finalists for CCS Teacher of the Year, but it’s easy to forget her age after you spend just a minute talking with her.
“I really want my students to invest in themselves by investing in their learning,” Wagoner said. “We always talk about, yes, you’re only eight or nine but the habits that you’re creating now, not only academically but emotionally, just physically the habits that we’re creating, that public schools provide, it sets them up to be lifelong learners but also able to contribute to our global society and it matters.
“And I do have those conversations with my students because I really want them to be invested in their education so that when they get to sixth and seventh and eighth grade, like, this might not be something that I’m interested in, but I understand the value of what I’m receiving because when we take opportunities that’s when magic happens.
“So that’s really what we focus on in the classroom…Teachers can provide education, but if we can internally motivate students to grab onto education for themselves, they’re going to be fine when they exit my classroom.”
A good education from a public school is what Wagoner is truly passionate about.
She didn’t have it easy growing up. Her family moved a lot, she spent time in under-funded schools and struggled because of that both mentally and educationally.
But one teacher took the time to help her and that is what she wants to be able to do for her students.
“One of the main reasons I am passionate about public education and the opportunities it offers our students is because of my own experiences inside the classroom as a young adult,” she said. “When I first started high school I was trying to overcome some personal trauma and hardships I experienced, but still found myself making poor choices, hanging out with the wrong people, and struggling academically and behaviorally.
“Mental health and social emotional curriculum was not something I had access to at the time. During my sophomore year, the high school yearbook teacher, Mrs. Sheila Beverly, saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to join our yearbook staff even though she was probably hesitant due to my behavior and academic problems.
“She gave me a chance when others weren't willing too. What Mrs. Beverly didn't know was that she was offering me structure and an opportunity to do something productive with my time, which was a gift of dignity. Mrs. Beverly really treated me like her own child and held me accountable for my actions, but also spoke hope and life over my future. She helped me believe in myself and build resiliency in my adversity, which has been something I have tried to pass on to each of my students.
“Because of her influence on my life I was able to increase my GPA, apply to college, and she even allowed me to be co-editor-in-chief of our yearbook my senior year. This is why I believe that students should not be limited in the classroom and why I teach my students it’s not about the mistakes that you make, but how you recover from those difficult situations that creates your character.
“I want my students to know that other people don't get to decide who they are and how far they will go in life, but that choice is defined by their choices and resiliency in hardship. It's just a gift to be able to support students and be a part of the process.”
Part of what makes Wagoner stand out is that willingness to make mistakes.
Tara Butch only spent a little more than a semester working with Wagoner, but she raves about the way she approaches her job with humility.
“She has taken it upon herself to go in and observe other teachers,” Butch said. “She worked with fourth-grade math specifically because she wanted to see how fourth-grade math plans so she could run her math the same way that those kids would have next year.
“So I say humble in that she’s a good teacher…but she knows that there’s room for her to grow and so she asks questions, she goes and observes other teachers, and it’s things that she does on her own and people see that about her.”
Wagoner is constantly learning but she is also leading in the process. She is currently a grade-level chair, but has also spends time as a Professional Learning Community facilitator, a peer mentor to first-year teacher and is a member on school improvement team.
That is in addition to working to provide students with after-school tutoring and serving on the teaching learning team which allows her to be trained with Cabarrus County and bring development back to the school.
And that’s just at R. Brown McAllister.
At her previous job at Winecoff Elementary, she was again a grade-level chair in addition to being a MCSS facilitator and a PBIS co-chair.
She is even working to improve right now as she recently graduated from the Cabarrus County Teacher Leaders Cohort and earned a full scholarship in a paid internship program between CCS and UNC Charlotte.
She will be starting her masters in school administration in the fall and will be in the classroom next year as a full-time grad student before moving on to do an assistant principal internship in Cabarrus County.
Then after graduating she will come back as a full-time assistant principal.
Wagoner’s eventual move into administration makes all the sense in the world to Butch.
“For her it’s just a natural, smooth transition to go from a teacher leader to a building leader,” Butch said. “But also having that strong instruction and that strong personal skill set, the humility, the ‘I don’t know everything, I know that I need to learn still, and I’m going to ask questions to make myself better.’ And that’s just to me, she’s so genuine and she just wants to be better for her kids and…she’s definitely a gem for sure.”
While she seems like a perfect fit to move into an administrator role, it is her passion as a teacher driving Wagoner to impact students’ lives.
“I don’t believe that we should set limits on students because of their zip code or because of the school that they attend or because of their tax bracket,” Wagoner said. “I think that there is just a lot of judgement going on with school report card grades, and so part of my stance as a teacher of the year award finalist is I want to bring awareness that just because a school is underfunded or under-resourced or (a student) comes from a low-income family, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be successful and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart.
“It just means that they need the right educator and the right source in place to be successful and I really want to provide that, and as an administrator, my goal is to provide that education not just in my classroom but to hundreds of children at my school.”
What she has done as a teacher and what she hopes to do as an administrator is not lost on her colleagues.
“She is just eager to serve others and to really serve in any way she can, and do the best for her kids,” Blanchard said. “She’s really striving for the best in everything she does.”
“She’s fabulous. I think her kids are lucky to have her,” Butch added. “I think R. Brown is lucky to have her as a staff member, she’s phenomenal. She is truly one in a million.”