Jamie West wanted to be an athletic trainer.
Midway through her career at Methodist College, however, the Harnett County native felt a change of heart. What West thought she wanted to do wasn’t actually what she ended up doing.
Her career course correction turned out to be the right call as Harnett County Schools named West its 2020 Teacher of the Year.
“I didn’t initially want to be a teacher,” West said. “I switched my major [my junior year in college] to the closest thing I could graduate on time with. I fell in love with it from there. [Teaching] was kind of like a last resort in a sense but I have loved every second of it.”
West’s recognition completed a full circle 13-year journey that ended where it started. She attended South Harnett Elementary School, the place where she now teaches physical education and earned her place as one of the county’s top educators. Accomplishing the feat as a PE teacher made it even more special.
“I felt excited and extremely proud,” said West. “I feel like it’s difficult in my profession as a PE teacher to be recognized at all and the fact I was recognized by the county kind of felt like I had made it in a sense, in that people noticed I was working hard.”
After graduating from Western Harnett High School, the soccer star stayed close to home and went to Methodist where she also played on the pitch, earning captain status her junior and senior seasons. Those leadership traits followed her into the professional world and eventually garnered the attention of her peers.
“The influence of Mrs. West is felt throughout the school,” South Harnett Elementary Principal Thomas Backus said. “Beyond her positive impact on students, she is also an inspiration to all school staff that has the privilege of working with her. Her positivity, student-centered approach, and her willingness to put in hard work without hesitation is contagious among staff and keeps us all well focused.”
Like so many others in her profession, West can’t wait for the day teachers can return to the classroom and reunite with students. COVID-19 shuttered school campuses in March that have yet to reopen. Being a physical education teacher, West faced a different set of circumstances when developing lesson plans for her students.
“The biggest challenge as a teacher is the lack of control,” said West. “In my world, specifically, I feel I can be the best teacher I can be when the children are in my care, under my wing and working with me face-to-face. I understand safety is to be considered, I just feel like one of the biggest challenges as a teacher is I have to find ways to reach my children now and be as effective as I was remotely. That’s a huge challenge.”
West also teaches PE at Lillington-Shawtown Elementary School. With a performance-based curriculum, West worried that her students weren’t getting the physical exercise they needed during the pandemic and used every opportunity to stress its importance to children and parents.
“I talked with my kids when they came for packet pickups and they were saying all they’ve done all summer is play video games,” West said. “I told them they needed to go outside and play. It makes me fearful for the obesity rates and what could happen in the future. Children learn best through play period, no matter what age they are, whether it’s physical education or just activity. They learn all kinds of things through play and with them being indoors and on devices all day, it concerns me. I’m afraid children will get even further behind in growth motor skills, problem-solving abilities and stuff like that.”
West stressed the importance of not only exercising but maintaining a proper diet. While it’s easier to simply offer children junk food, West would like to see parents provide more fruits and vegetables and less sugar.
“I am very concerned about childhood obesity,” said West. “Parents should be educated on it and understand that it’s not always an active thing as it is a nutrition thing.”
West understood the decision not to reopen campuses, but that hasn’t stopped her from missing her students. Remote learning changed the way she presented curriculum and she is constantly thinking of different strategies that will reach children.
“If I had it my way I would have my kids in front of me, absolutely,” West said. “Safety has always been my No. 1 concern and the safety of my students is my utmost concern, but the day we get to come back is the day my teacher heart is happy and that’s getting to do what I love to do with my kids. Without that face-to-face, laughing and learning with them, that whole aspect has just thrown me for a loop these past few weeks. When we come back to face-to-face, I can’t wait to be me again.”
West’s recognition earned her an invitation to the North Carolina Regional interview process. If she advances, she will be in the running as one of the state’s Teacher of the Year finalists.
-The Dunn Daily Record