Chapel Hill High School Educator Named North Carolina Teacher of the Year

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Kimberly Jones was named the 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year

Kimberly Jones, Teacher of the Year

By Anna Beth Adcock | Photograph by John Michael Simpson

“The bell rings, the curtain goes up and you’re on.” For 17 years, Kimberly Jones has been an educator, most recently sharing her love of world literature in the English department at Chapel Hill High School. The seasoned teacher was recently named the 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year – a recognition that she sees as the highest honor of her professional career. Raised in Erwin, North Carolina, Kimberly has a bachelor’s degree in English language and a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from Wake Forest University. She lived in Durham from 2006 to 2020, and after marrying her husband, Josh Norris, in 2019, moved to Danville, Virginia, where they live with their kids, Trent and Cameron, and their pug, Doug.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I’ve always appreciated teachers and valued the knowledge they shared and the parts of the world they unlocked. However, it wasn’t until my summer at North Carolina Governor’s School East [in Raleigh] that I realized not only did teachers have the potential to share information, but they truly could transform your life and facilitate you learning about the world and about yourself. … That was what lit the spark for me.

School us on a day in your life. 

This year, I teach all world literature classes – a combination of honors and standard level classes. We focus on everything from ancient Greek literature to the study of the Holocaust to the colonization of colonial Africa. I do my best to include supplemental text that relates to what my kids are experiencing and living through in the world right now.

How do you connect with your kids? 

I try to bring my full self into class every day. My kids know that my passion for literature, writing, speaking and listening is authentic – I model rigorous engagement and bring joy and positivity to the subjects we are studying. … And I invest in what they’re interested in. There’s always something going on at school – extracurricular activities, concerts, musicals – and I attend as many events as possible because I want my students to know I care about the things they’re passionate about.

What’s your teaching style?

In my classroom, there’s a lot of talking and a lot of questions – because that’s where learning happens in that exchange of ideas. We are constantly looking for the universal truths in any given text and drawing connections between classic pieces and their modern teenage lives. … If kids don’t believe that what they’re learning is relevant to the world they’re living in, they’re not going to invest.

Can you point to any educators who made a special impact on you? 

Absolutely. My mother – she was my first teacher, and she still teaches me; Derek Currin – he taught English at my high school, and he helped mentor me through the college essay process and is now a dear part of my family; and Dr. Joseph Milner from Wake Forest University, who was director of the North Carolina Governor’s School program I attended.

What was your reaction to winning Teacher of the Year? 

It’s a moment that has no comparison. … I work alongside the most fantastic staff and facility here at Chapel Hill High School. I got to spend a week with my fellow regional teachers of the year, and I know what fantastic educators they are – so to be named Teacher of the Year in the company of such outstanding teachers was overwhelming. It’s also amazing to have the opportunity to give thanks to so many of the people who have gotten me to where I am today.

What do you hope to learn and accomplish as you travel the state next year as a teaching ambassador? 

I hope to amplify the amazing things I know are happening in North Carolina public schools – to amplify the hard work of teachers around the state and increase public respect and professional compensation for teachers. … My personal academic passion is to increase the cultural relevance and curriculums in public schools. I think it’s vital that every kid – no matter their background or identity – see themselves positively reflected in their learning, both in what they learn and who they learn from.

Any advice for new teachers or those considering the profession?

Your educational preparation did not end the day they gave you your diploma. It begins the day you walk into your classroom. Be OK with learning, and be OK that you won’t always know everything … but you always have the opportunity to get better and to better serve your kids.

Lightning Round

What sports team do you root for?
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons. I bleed black and gold.

Current TV show pick? 
“Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story”

Go-to Chapel Hill spots? 
Mediterranean Deli, Bakery and CateringHeavenly Buffaloes; and the North Carolina Botanical Garden

Secret hobby?
I’m a true crime fanatic.

Fave subject in school? 
English and show choir.

Fave book genre? 
My escape genre is romance, and I’m currently loving the Bridgerton series.

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