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Freedom teacher Amy Howell named Burke’s Teacher of the Year

posted May 1, 2018, 7:15 AM by Cheryl Shuffler



Amy Howell, a health science/nursing fundamentals teacher at Freedom High School, has been named the Burke County Public Schools 2018 teacher of the year. Howell is in her 12th year of teaching and her 10th year at Freedom High School.


Howell started her career as a nurse and then found teaching to be her passion. Watching her mom die of cancer when she was 15 led Howell into the nursing field so she could care for others. As a junior in high school, Howell was interested in health science classes, but had a teacher tell her she would never achieve her educational goals. She did not let that discourage her. Before she graduated from high school, Howell became a CNA, EMT and  paramedic and then went on to become a registered nurse. She said, “Innately, I knew I would obtain an education somehow, and I would not allow that teacher to dictate my failure to do so.”


As a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher, Howell’s students can follow her path and become Certified Nursing Assistants while in high school and then go on to work in the healthcare field or continue in a community college or university nursing program. Howell said, “I feel this opportunity is invaluable to the needs of the students and their family members.” 


Howell and her four siblings were raised by a single mom before her mom’s death. She said she knows what it is like to be hungry and suffer abuse and empathizes with her students who are going through similar situations. She said, “I chose teaching after nine years of perfecting my nursing skills of direct patient care so that I could extend that knowledge to my students in both the classroom and clinical setting. I know I can inspire and empower students, just from my personal experience. I want to challenge my students to make positive life and educational choices no matter the situation they may be faced with.”


Howell said her teaching philosophy is to lead by positive example. She said, “I truly believe that this is key to gaining the respect of my students that I strive for on a daily basis while interacting with them. I instill the value of respect and moral decision making and use every possible moment as a teaching moment. Each student is an individual to me; I see the good, the bad and all that is between. I give each student the same opportunity regardless of situation, involvement, cognitive ability, background or history. I feel as an educator I must recognize the strengths and weakness and build upon each of those.”



Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam, Debbie Jennings, the director of Secondary Education and CTE for Burke County Public Schools, and Freedom High School Principal Felicia Simmons, who is this year’s BCPS Principal of the Year, surprised Howell with the announcement on Monday. Simmons then informed the school over the intercom of the honor and had Howell walk through the cafeteria, where students and staff cheered for her and doled out congratulatory hugs.


Jennings said of Howell, “Her passion for her students is very evident. She is a great role model and loved by students, parents and the community.”


Larry Putnam said, “Congratulations to Ms. Howell on being named BCPS Teacher of the Year. She was nominated by her peers at Freedom High School who see her excitement for teaching and her love for her students as well as how her students respond to her instruction. She is well-deserving of this honor.”


Howell has a bachelor’s of science in nursing from the University of North Carolina - Greensboro and, in addition to teaching at Freedom, works as a nursing adjunct instructor for Western Piedmont Community College and serves as a PRN staff nurse for Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge. She is a member of Health Occupations Students of America and Sigma Theta Tau. Howell’s previous work experience includes patient and staff education development at Broughton Hospital and as an RN supervisor at Western Piedmont Heart Center.


Howell is a teacher leader through her involvement as a nursing advisor; participates in the Burke County Public Schools Teacher Leaders Forum; is a CPR instructor through the American Heart Association; is the Burke County Liaison for Health Science Education; is a member of the Freedom High School Leadership Team; and is a presenter at annual CTE Summer Conferences.


Howell was Freedom High School’s teacher of the year in 2013 and received recognition for outstanding first year teacher in 2008. She also helped Freedom obtain in-facility test site recognition for the state CNA exam.


Each school in the district selected a teacher of the year. The school-level recipients completed a written portfolio and submitted videos in which they talked about teacher leadership, student-centered classrooms, accountability and their platform as teacher of the year. A committee reviewed the portfolios and videos and selected finalists for an interview.


Putnam said, “The selection committee had a tough job in choosing our teacher of the year. We have passionate and creative teachers throughout our district and that was evident in their essays and their videos. Congratulations to all of our school-level teachers of the year. You are the best of the best.” 


The Board of Education will recognize Howell and all school-level teachers of the year at the May 7 Board of Education meeting. Howell is now eligible for the regional teacher of the year.