Out of more than 50 Lake Norman area public, charter, and private schools, 32 teachers were nominated to receive recognition as Lake Norman Magazine’s top five teachers. Beyond accolades and professional achievements, these teachers were chosen because they go above and beyond to create learning experiences for their students in and outside of the classroom.
Stephanie Schou, a 26-year veteran seventh-grade English teacher at North Lincoln Middle School in Denver, believes in living a purposeful life, and she inspires her students to do the same.
Schou, 53, started a school club to participate in Pennies for Peace four years ago in response to Greg Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea.” The book details Mortenson’s journey from failing to climb the second highest mountain in the world, Pakistan’s K2, to successfully building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pennies for Peace is an international service learning program initiated through Greg Mortenson’s nonprofit, Central Asian Institute. Schou’s school club has raised more than $500 for this international initiative—bringing educational opportunities to these war-torn and impoverished areas of the world.
“If we can see the world beyond ourselves, then we can see what matters,” Schou says. “I teach my students to have an awareness of the effect we have on others. We need to live a purposeful life.”
Lori Ann Fortkort
When talking to Assistant Chief Administrator at Lincoln Charter School Jonathan Bryant about high school science teacher Lori Ann Fortkort, he says what makes her stand out among her peers is her empathy. “She is so empathetic to all students, as individuals. She just gets where the students come from.”
Fortkort, 53, started teaching chemistry, physical science, and AP physics to 11th and 12th graders at Lincoln Charter School in Denver eight years ago. Prior to that she spent 10 years working for the CIA, training field case officers and specializing in chemical quality assurance and budgeting. After that, she spent 10 years as a stay-at-home mom raising her three children, two of which have Autism.
Fortkort says her experience with the CIA has helped her provide real world examples of why science matters, but her two sons with Autism taught her empathy.
“It takes huge loads of patiencethey taught me to smile more and be positive, because everyone is dealing with something.”
Amy Nestor, an eighth-grade math teacher at J.M. Alexander Middle School in Huntersville, makes her students’ education her number one priority.
Nestor, 38, offers free in-school tutoring for her students two to three times per week during the school year. She says she normally has anywhere from 20 to 32 students there. Last year, she created a Saturday Academy where students learned math through outdoor physical activities like relays and making graphs with chalk in the parking lot, and she filmed end of grade testing prep videos with call-in questions from students for CMS’ Math Xtra TV Show.
Her students even have her cell phone number and email address, and they regularly use it for help with math problems.It’s no wonder the school’s test scores went up 12 percent last year.
Nestor, who has been teaching for 14 years, says, “If they are eager to learn, I am here for them.”
Grace Hale, a second-year high school English teacher at Lake Norman Christian in Davidson, always finds ways to engage her students in learning.
At the beginning of this school year, when her students were studying “Beowulf,” Hale, 26, made non-alcoholic mead, had students come up with their own Anglo-Saxon names, and pretend like they were in a mead (festive dining) hall.
Lounging in her classroom’s living room—a portion of the classroom is outfitted with an oversized comfy couch, chairs, and bean bags facing a wall of bookshelves—she recounts the mead experience as well as her continued persistence to get students to act out skits related to what they’re reading in the classroom and experiencing in everyday life.
While she wants to help her students find ways to get interested in learning, she also pushes them to become independent learners.
Hale says, “I want them to take ownership of their education—find your way of enjoying and engaging in the work, make it relatable, and discover your passion for learning.”
Three large, North Carolina landscape murals created out of recycled, color-coded bottle caps hang above bookshelves in Rocky River Elementary School’s library in Mooresville.
Art teacher Stephanie Sossamon proudly says, “All of my students and some teachers came together to work on this last year. We try to do something big like this every year.”This is just one example of the way Sossamon, 34, uses art as a medium for building community.
Sossamon also works on service learning projects with her students, such as creating artwork for SCAN, a N.C. nonprofit working to stop child abuse, and Cornelius’ Habitat for Humanity ReStore and corporate offices.As for her fellow teachers, she created a school-wide High Five program. Teachers are encouraged to write meaningful messages on colorful cut-out hand prints and stick them on each other’s classroom doors to compliment them on a job well done. She says it’s a way to see past the rigidity of day-to-day schedules and support one another’s hard work.
“It’s important to see how we can contribute to the community through art,” she says.
Nominations were solicited from area principals and assistant principals, and the final teachers were selected by a panel comprised of a former teacher, a parent, a UNC-Charlotte professor, and a former PTO president, none of whom reside in Lake Norman. All personal information was removed from the nominations prior to submission to the panel.