The Alamance-Burlington school system’s new Teacher of the Year, Ashley West, describes herself as a once-troubled child whose teachers eventually helped set her on a better path in school and life.
“My life was transformed by ABSS teachers, and it’s one of the reasons I came back to teach and hopefully be that for somebody else. Funny enough, [for] the children who have different needs, I tend to be drawn to them, and they are drawn to me. It’s kind of the same process all over again: I’m helping to find what works for them. This is why I do it.” – ABSS teacher of the year Ashley West, Hillcrest Elementary math teacher
Now a fourth-grade math teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School, West was named the 2023 ABSS Teacher of the Year during the school system’s inaugural “Evening of Excellence Celebration” Thursday evening (April 27) at Southern High School.
“I’m a product of ABSS schools. I was that troubled little girl in school,” West said after her selection was announced at the ceremony.
A native of Alamance County and a graduate of Cummings High School, West returned to Alamance County to teach for ABSS in 2018 after finishing college and initially working in the medical field in Louisiana, she recalled Tuesday morning in an interview with The Alamance News.
“I constantly stayed in the principal’s office due to misbehavior,” West elaborated in her video interview, which all seven ABSS teacher of the year finalists were required to record for the competition. “All the way, elementary to middle school, I had teachers rally behind me; my parents rallied behind me – and they really just helped me to find what worked for me and what I was great at.
“My life was transformed by ABSS teachers, and it’s one of the reasons I came back to teach and hopefully be that for somebody else,” West recalled in that video interview. “Funny enough, [for] the children who have different needs, I tend to be drawn to them, and they are drawn to me. It’s kind of the same process all over again: I’m helping to find what works for them. This is why I do it.”
Her own transformation into an educator wasn’t immediate, however, West recalled for the newspaper Tuesday.
“I originally kind of ran from teaching,” she elaborates. “I remember when my mom dropped me off at college, I was trying to go the pre-med route. [Later] I just felt out of place, and I always kind of had this knack for teaching and tutoring.”
Now in her fifth year of teaching at Hillcrest Elementary School, West says she keeps her students engaged – in what may seem to some an unexciting subject area (math), at a critical stage in their intellectual development – through innovative lesson plans.
West explains, “I think, because of the things that these students have seen, I kind of have a benefit. Because of math being very fast-paced, I try to incorporate apps and social media and the things that are relevant to them today.”
For an example, West points to Fortnite, an online game developed by Cary-based Epic Games that “combines looting, crafting, shootouts, chaos,” which West and other teachers across the U.S. have incorporated into their math lessons.
“Fortnite has a lot of strategy and problem-solving in that,” West tells the newspaper.
West has a simple philosophy about how to help her students become academically successful. “It’s based off of relationship – listening to their lives, learning about them,” she says. “Especially nowadays, why are they going to care if they don’t know that you care? It’s a trust.”
“When I walk in here, into [my classroom at Hillcrest], something happens,” West said in the video she recorded for the ABSS teacher of the year competition. “It’s important to me to know that I am helping to make a difference…To know I’m doing something purposeful has changed everything for me: when they have that boost of confidence, of ‘wow, I can get this,’ to me, that brings me back every day. That’s bigger than a paycheck, than all of the long days – seeing that kid have that moment is everything.”
West and her husband of 10 years, who’s employed as a chef, live in Burlington and have four children, whose ages range from nine to two.
West’s hobbies include designing websites, playing the violin, and singing. “I love web design,” she tells the newspaper. “I design websites on the side; it all comes together for me.”
She and her husband are also active in their church, City Gate Church. “My husband and I are like a duo: he plays piano, and I sing,” West says, adding that she also occasionally volunteers with Saint Mark’s Church in Burlington.
West will go on to represent ABSS in the Piedmont-Triad regional teacher of the year competition later this year.
Earlier coverage: See who is teacher of the year at each ABSS school: https://alamancenews.com/do-you-know-whos-the-teacher-of-the-year-at-your-childs-school/