This September, we asked readers to submit essays about their most inspiring teachers. The stories were heartfelt, moving, and pay great tribute to North Carolina’s teachers — past and present.

Collectively, the stories capture the essence of what makes a good teacher a great one — creative classroom teaching; connection with students for whom an exceptional adult role model makes all the difference; a sense of humor; and an uncanny ability to push students beyond what they think possible. We knew North Carolina was full of inspiring teachers. These stories proved it.

Jacqueline Boykin’s essay about Mrs. Oliver captured all of those elements as they existed in 7th and 8th grade classrooms in Havelock in the 1940s. We’re confident Mrs. Oliver’s spirit can be found in teachers around North Carolina today.

Choosing a single essay as the winner was a difficult task. To view all the entries, click here. Each entrant will also receive a gift copy of Tar Heel Towns, Day Trips, and Weekends from Our State as a thank you for entering.

Mrs. Oliver

by Jacqueline Boykin, Williamston
Geography was the subject of Mrs. Oliver’s lesson on a rainy day in November at Cherry Point School in 1948. As the rain poured down, and the radiators along the wall beneath the tall windows steamed, she enthralled us with a demonstration of how mountains formed. Her delicate hands slowly crushed a sheet of paper. We imagined mountains rising and the earth trembling.

She was a remarkable woman and an extraordinary teacher. We had the benefit of her instruction for two of our most formative years, 7th and 8th grades.

Mrs. Oliver was a woman of generous proportions, with short white hair and a chin that lay in folds about her neck. She was 53 when we walked into her classroom in Havelock.

She required us to practice penmanship. Standing at the board with her plain black dress stretched round her girth, she demonstrated the arm and hand movements needed to produce perfect letters. “Young people,” Mrs. Oliver said, “look at these handwriting samples from my Filipino students. Surely, you can write as well as they can.”

She did indeed teach in the Philippines during the 1920s, in a program that was the prototype for what would become the Peace Corps.

The genius of Mrs. Oliver’s educational method was her hands-on approach. Outside, we measured the area of the playground and solved math problems. We captured and categorized insects. Lima beans were planted in glass containers so we could observe them sprout.

We traveled to the Outer Banks and Mrs. Oliver led us to the top of the Wright Brothers’ Memorial. We went to the History, Science, and Art museums, and the State Legislature. I first saw television at the State Fair with my classmates.

We memorized and recited famous speeches. By putting heroic words in our mouths, she gave us confidence in our own worth.

Some of us challenged Mrs. Oliver’s patience and skill. However, what I remember best are all the afternoons she spent at the back of the room teaching Johnny Ray to read.

Mrs. Oliver taught more than academic subjects. She helped us plan softball games, Halloween carnivals, school assembly programs, and sock-hops. We soaked up high standards for work and behavior and enjoyed bountiful opportunities for convincing success.

At the end of 8th grade in the spring of 1950, Mrs. Oliver held a graduation ceremony for us, complete with speeches, bright red caps and gowns, and diplomas. She prepared all of us for life and was my role model for a career in public education in North Carolina.

To view all contest entries please, click here.

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