CONCORD- “I could teach you so much if you just listen.”
Those words from a high school English teacher triggered something in James Ford. Those words inspired him to straighten up, get his grades under control and go on to become the 2014-15 North Carolina Teacher of the Year.
And that designation led him to Cabarrus County on Tuesday, Aug, 16 where he spoke to new teachers about their talents and calling to be an educator.
Ford spoke to almost 350 new teachers during an annual new teacher luncheon at Jay M. Robinson High School hosted by the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce for Cabarrus County Schools and Kannapolis City Schools.
“You all are some of my favorite people. I love teachers,” Ford told them. “You guys are salt of the Earth kind of people. Teachers have been so important to me in my life.”
Ford is the program director at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, an education think-tank and advocacy organization. Prior to this he served as the 2014-15 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and the representative for 95,000 public school teachers throughout the state. He was a world history at Garinger High School in Charlotte.
He traveled the state and country speaking to thousands of teachers, students, business leaders and policy makers about the importance of education for a full year and lobbied the state legislature to secure the first post-recession raises for teachers. He was made chair of the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Committee.
But prior to all of that, he was a student who was not interested in school.
“I wasn’t great academically. I was content to get D’s and F’s and didn’t find school interesting,” Ford said.
But that all changed on his first day of honors English when he was determined to push his teacher to the limit. But his teacher was determined to push back.
“He kicks me out of class, and I was surprised because being kicked out on the first day was a world record for me,” Ford said. “He came out to the hall with me and said ‘You are smart and pretty funny too. I could teach you so much if you just listen.”
Ford said in that moment something clicked for him and his life was forever changed.
“A teacher looked past my faults and saw what I needed. I wanted to prove him right,” Ford said.
After graduating high school, Ford earned a bachelor of science in mass communication from Illinois State University before stumbling into the teacher profession after working as a truancy intervention specialist in high schools and director of a teen center.
“I didn’t choose the teaching profession, I stumbled into it. I worked in the nonprofit sector and wanted to find a way to be more hands-on with the students and help them learn things,” Ford said. “Then I realized that job did exist, it is called a teacher.”
He got his masters in teaching from Rockford University and answered the “calling” to become a teacher.
“During this season of the school year it is critical to remind yourself who you are, particularly when people understate your importance,” Ford told the new teachers about the beginning of the year. “You are some of the most talented people in the entire world. This is one of the few professions that the impact of our work reaches into space and time.”
Ford told the teachers when they get discouraged, and he promised they would, to remember why they answered the calling in the first place.
“It’s important to remember to operate from the why. The why did you get into this in the first place,” Ford said. “Education is the solution to every problem in our society today. You are crucially important. Your kids are going to be somebody. What you do impacts the quality of life, the economy and public safety. Your profession is one that all other professions depend on.”
Businesses have the teachers’ backs
The annual luncheon is a chance for the businesses to meet the new teachers and let them know they’ve got their backs.
“This annual event is a great way for the chamber members to let teachers know how important they are to us,” Barbi Jones, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said. “We have a large range of members, but we all love the community’s children and teachers.”
The day began with a vendor fair attended by various Cabarrus County businesses and a pep rally for the new teachers featuring the Central Cabarrus High School Pep Band and cheerleaders along with cheerleaders from Concord, Hickory Ridge, Northwest Cabarrus, Mt. Pleasant and A.L. Brown high schools.
Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Lowder and Kannapolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Buckwell served as the “coaches” for the new teachers, each wearing hats representing one of their schools.
“We appreciate the chamber for doing this for our employees. They have been very supportive of our schools,” Lowder said. “This day is exciting. One of the benefits of education is you have a beginning and an end. You are always starting a new family and it’s exciting.”
Lowder estimates his school system will have around 230 new teachers this year while Buckwell said Kannapolis City Schools will have about 25.
“I can’t be more grateful to the chamber and the business community for hosting this event,” Buckwell said. “There is a lot of bad press out there about what happens in schools and it’s just not the case.”
For the third year in a row, the presenting sponsor for the luncheon was Leigh Brown @ Associates with Remax. Brown told new teachers she continues to sponsor each year because she loves them and wants to make them feel protected in Cabarrus County.
“I live here and grew up here. As a parent, student, community member and business owner, I believe it is my job to protect ya’ll,” Brown said. “When you get in that classroom, you might feel alone. We don’t want you to feel that way. In Cabarrus County we are all up in each other’s business.”
She said she wanted to make sure all the teachers, especially those new to the county, were aware that the chamber businesses have their back.
“When your day sucks and nobody will listen to you, come see us. When you need something for your classroom, come to us because we will have your back. Just make sure you have each other’s backs,” Brown said. “Keep that excitement you have today. I love that every one of you have taken this leap of fate in this community.”
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