CONCORD — Wolf Meadow Elementary fifth grade math and science teacher Melissa Capets is one of six finalists for Cabarrus County Schools Teacher of the Year and yet another shining example of what her school has to offer.
Capets received her nomination just one year after her principal Jennifer Brinson was also named the Southwest Region Principal of the Year in North Carolina. There is a depth of educators at Wolf Meadow Elementary all schools in the state, want and Capets would be proud to represent her school as the 2020-21 CCS Teacher of the Year.
“I’ve had a phenomenal team everywhere I’ve worked at Wolf Meadow,” she said, “and I am the teacher I am because of those teams I’ve worked with.”
The right atmosphere
When Brinson was named a finalist for Principal of the Year in the state last year, she was clear that she could not do what she does without the talented group of teachers working at Wolf Meadow Elementary.
Capets is the shining example of what she means.
“You just breed this culture of learning and growing and improving,” Brinson said. “That’s kind of what makes great educators, you’re always a learner too and you’re always learning and growing and improving. And Ms. Capets does that really well. She seeks out, ‘I want to learn about this, here’s a new strategy I can learn, here’s a new person I can learn from, here’s a new way I can get better,’ and she does that. And to me that’s what makes a really great educator. Someone that’s also a lifelong learner.”
Brinson has been at Wolf Meadow for eight years, her first four coming as an assistant principal and her last four as the principal. She has seen all seven years of Ms. Capets’ growth and has witnessed the culture she has tried to instill work so well with teachers such as her.
That culture of working and learning together was at the front of Capets’ mind when she found out she was nominated and it was at the front of her mentor’s mind as well.
“One of my really good friends who was my mentor (Erin Balga) — I actually met her at Wolf Meadow. She was my mentor when I was a beginning teacher — texted me and said, ‘I feel like we won.’” Capets said. “That was really cool because we’re a part of our school, I represent my school, I represent Wolf Meadow and it was really exciting to have all these people who backed me and said, ‘You’re going to represent our school so well.’ But also a lot of responsibility because I am representing my school (and) I want to represent them really well.”
Teacher of the Year nominees are voted on by their peers. Other teachers in the school find someone they believe best exemplifies who the Teacher of the Year is and say, ‘We think you are among the best in the district.’ Capets is so good she is one of six nominees in the County out of more than 2,200 teachers.
To see her win against those odds would bring absolute joy to Brinson.
“It would be fantastic for the school,” she said. “It’s one of your own. She would be great because…it’s a representative of great teachers, so to have her represent all the great teachers at this school, I would be like a proud mama.”
When talking about her nomination it was clear Capets would have things she would want to do if she were to win.
“In working seven years I have all these ideas and all these ideas that I want to share and passion for teaching,” she said. “I love my job. I love teaching. So part of the really awesome thing about winning Teacher of the Year, if that were to happen, is that now I’m one platform higher and can maybe share my ideas with more people and reach more people and more teachers and maybe get more teachers, or more future teachers, passionate about the profession as well.”
Over the past few years Capets has become very passionate about “inquiry based learning” or taking the time to emphasize a student’s role in the learning process. She believes all students could benefit from it and would want to bring up its importance at the district level.
“The thing I’m most passionate about is really teaching kids how to think and getting away from answers being the goal and the process behind the answers being the goal,” she said.
She continued: “A lot of my students when they come to me they’re so fixed on getting an answer. That’s their goal. Their goal is, ‘I want to get the answer, I want to get the answer,’ and some of them can get an answer, a correct answer without even understanding what they’re doing and they don’t understand the math behind it.
“So making the process the important thing and understanding that math is the goal and then the answers just come because I understand the math. And transforming the goal of math. The goal of math is to understand math, not necessarily to get an answer. Of course we want them to get the right answers, but we want them to get the right answers because they understand what they’re doing and not because they’ve memorized a formula.”
To see how Capets has grown as a teacher has been inspiring for Brinson as she has seen all seven years of her experience at Wolf Meadow and how much she has sought out improvement every step of the way.
“She does a really good job at embedding 21st century people skills,” Brinson said. “It’s important that you know fractions but it’s also important that you know how to work with other people and problem solve and talk and listen. So she embeds all of that instruction in what she’s doing and really organizes her classroom in that way.”
She continued: “One phrase she uses a lot, she teaches them that, ‘When we learn new information we can change our mind.’ And that’s such a great skill. ‘Oh, I learned something new, now I think something different.’ She talks about that a lot and teaches kids how to revise their thinking as they learn new information and that’s a skill forever. She’s just passionate about people and creating people that are learners and thinkers and contributors.”
Capets is currently part of a pilot program in inquiry based learning and would love for every teacher to not only be able to incorporate it into their work, but to have teachers at each school who can help them navigate through it every day.
“One of my ideas was to meet with our math specialists for the County, the elementary math specialists, and to have coaches at the schools,” Capets said. “So the teachers that are piloting this program could kind of be coaches so that it’s not just, ‘OK, here’s this professional development, go do this because you have to do it,’ but now there’s coaches at my school that are invested in it and they want me to do well with it. (Then) we can meet in our PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and make sure that we’re doing this work really well and our students are growing because of it.”
It is impossible to miss the passion in what Capets, does and Brinson has seen every bit of it.
“If you could plot this seven years for Ms. Capets it would be exactly what you would want to happen with a teacher,” she said.
She continued: “Over that seven years I’ve watched her from leading in her classroom to leading in her grade level to now leading in the school and beyond and so it’s one of those journeys that if you could have plotted it it would be exactly what you would show new teachers.”
What would it mean to win?
It’s a challenge to win Teacher of the Year at a school in Cabarrus County let alone win it for the district. With more than 2,000 teachers employed at CCS there is less than a 10th of a percent chance to win the award.
That fact is not lost on Capets.
“Of course, (to win) would be an incredible thing,” she said. “I think any teacher would love to be Teacher of the Year. And do I want to be Teacher of the Year? It would be wonderful to be Teacher of the Year. But also because that means that I can go forward and represent my entire county and maybe make a difference in the field, in the profession.”
As challenging as it may be to win that does not change the fact that Brinson knows Capets is deserving.
“She’s a fantastic teacher at our school and in our district and I’m very proud of her,” she said. “It’s a well-deserved honor and she’s a great candidate for the district or the region or the state. She would be a great advocate for students and for the profession.”