Before Charles Byrd was Chatham County School’s Beginning Teacher of the Year, he was a student. Like many other students, he remembers one particular teacher for her impact on his life — his …
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Before Charles Byrd was Chatham County School’s Beginning Teacher of the Year, he was a student. Like many other students, he remembers one particular teacher for her impact on his life — his eighth grade teacher then, and now his assistant principal where he teaches at Jordan-Matthews High.
“Ms. Barger ... where do I start? She was one of the first teachers to really take that interest in me outside of just being an athlete, so that was a really impactful time in my life,” Byrd said of his former teacher, Donna Barger. “That kind of changed the way I viewed school and she is, honestly, probably the number one reason why I’m a teacher today.”
Now, Byrd wants to be the type of teacher for his students that Barger was for him all those years ago.
Teaching business-related courses at Jordan-Matthews, Byrd also coached basketball and served as a resource teacher with students needing support in math, reading and writing. He’d worked as an instructional assistant in Wake County for a few years before coming to CCS, but last year was his first teaching in the classroom. Typically heralded as the most challenging year for teachers, Byrd’s first year was made even more challenging by the coronavirus pandemic — it was a tough year to be an educator, and so receiving the award was particularly meaningful to him.
“Honestly, it felt great,” he said. “I was a bit surprised because at some points in the year last year, I felt like I was drowning — so I really didn’t know how well I was doing. But I do know that I put forth my best effort, and I’m all about impacting the youth, so to know that my hard work paid off — it was a great feeling.”
Byrd will now compete for the regional and state level Beginning Teacher of the Year award. His CCS award was recognized during a Zoom meeting organized earlier this month by Jordan-Matthews Principal Tripp Crayton, at which CCS Superintendent Derrick Jordan praised Byrd’s teaching.
“You’re doing great things for young people,” Jordan said, according to a CCS release about the award. “You are showing what it means to be a Jet.”
For Barger, who taught Byrd English when he was an eighth grader at Fuquay-Varina Middle School, working with Byrd and seeing him thrive as an educator after being his teacher has been “just the coolest thing ever.” She remembers Byrd — even though it’s been a few years now since she taught him — as a distinguished young man with a great sense of humor and willingness to improve.
A joke between the two at Jordan-Matthews is when anyone asks Byrd who his favorite teacher is, Barger always pipes in with, “Uh, oh, you know how you have to answer that question.”
“I know most teachers have patience, but he wins, especially first year teaching when it’s just overwhelming,” she said, adding that Byrd’s demonstration of patience throughout the pandemic has been particularly commendable. “He is able to not only kind of bend down and speak and look at each child in their eye, but speak in such a quiet tone of voice that tells that kid, ‘I am here, and I am listening,’ and you really do not come across that very often with a brand new teacher.”
While adapting to remote learning has been a challenge, Byrd said he’s embracing the process for all it can teach him about finding more ways outside of the traditional classroom to give students knowledge and resources. One of his main goals as a teacher is to inspire his students to go after whatever the want in life, “just to make them feel important and special.”
“I definitely want to continue to create a welcoming classroom to each and every student that come into my classroom,” he said. “I feel like enthusiasm is big and students need that energy each and every day. And for me, it’s just a matter of making sure I could keep that consistent enthusiasm, that consistent energy with the students every day, and building those relationships with them so they want to engage in the classroom and they want to excel and do their work.”
No longer his teacher, but his boss and assistant principal, Barger said she is thrilled to see Byrd thrive as an educator.
“He’s such a great guy,” she said. “Nobody is more deserving than him. Truly I know a lot of people say that, but I just want to just burst with pride. And the exciting part is this is just the beginning. This is just the start of his career. If he has this now, what am I going to be able to witness five more years from now? It’s very exciting.”
As the name of his teaching award states, for Byrd, it is just the beginning.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.