As a history teacher, Michelle Smoak believes it’s important for students to learn about the past and compare it to the present.
Some of the lessons in her class at Sampson Early College High School (SECHS) may include political matters such as taxes and decisions made by U.S. presidents.
“I try to instill in them that if you know your history, you can know what’s happening better in the future or what’s happening now,” Smoak said. “It’s trying to to make that connection with the kids. If you can show them that the past is relevant to the present, then it makes it interested for them.”
Her dedication to education made her one of three finalists for Sampson County’s Teacher of the Year for 2018-2019. Smoak said it is wonderful to be recognized as one of the top teachers in the district by her peers.
“My peers recognize what I do and I think it’s an honor to represent them,” she said.
Smoak teaches world and American history classes at SECHS. She’s also the co-sponsor for the school’s student government association.
Her journey to Sampson County Schools began many years when she served as student teacher in a class with special education and regular students at New Hanover County’s Laney High School. In the absence of the teacher, she became a substitute and taught for the remainder of the school year.
“The special education students told me they would have not graduated if had not been for me,” she said fighting back tears. “That was a moment for me to realize why I wanted to be a teacher. You can impact someone and give them something that no one can take away and that’s their education.”
Smoak believes it’s important to give students skills they can use for life. She expressed how it’s the foundation for occupations involving law enforcement, health care and others. As a teacher, she enjoys seeing former students who are successful.
“You actually see them in the community on a daily basis and know that you actually had a small portion of creating this new person and this new lifestyle for them.”
Smoak earned a degree in history and certification in social studies concentration from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She also has certification for the Academically and Intellectually Gifted program and mentoring.
Prior to SECHS, Smoak taught at East Bladen High School and Sampson County’s Lakewood High School. She is married to Phillip Smoak and together they have one son, Ty. She is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an organization that supports educators.
She’s looking forward to spending more years at SECHS, place with smaller class sizes. Smoak said it’s a wonderful environment to be an educator since the staff and students are motivated. It also feels like family.
“I like the smaller climate because you know all of the students even if you don’t teach them,” she said about enjoying her time at school. “It’s really neat.”
In the classroom, Smoak likes to use different method and hands-on activities to teach students. One of the ways is Project Based Learning, which allows students to work on a topic for an extended period of time.
Sparking that interest comes with meeting the needs of students with different backgrounds and home lives.
“The challenge of teacher is trying to overcome all of the varying background of the students and trying to make that connection with them, so they understand that you care about them,” she said.