Amy Tart’s classroom at Union Intermediate School is often loud, but for her that’s a good thing.
“I can’t sit in a classroom for seven hours quietly and expect them to,” Tart said. “In a changing world, they need to be collaborating, they need to be having fun and they need to be engaged.”
The English Language Arts and Social Studies educator’s dedication to education led to her being named the 2018-2019 Sampson County Teacher of the Year. For Tart, it’s an honor and a humbling experience. The announcement was made during a Teacher of the Year celebration earlier this month.
“I was shocked because there’s so many other great teachers who were finalists,” Tart said. “It’s hard to be named teacher of the year because you look around and you see all the hard work your colleagues are doing.”
Throughout the year, the educator uses chants and encouragement in her room.
“I want them to build each other up, whenever someone wins,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, there were some sore losers. Now, when someone wins, they always clap.”
She enjoys reading novels and seeing children who don’t want to close their books.
“That’s the best sound in the world,” Tart said. “They’re not groaning to open a book. They’re groaning to close it.”
Tart enjoys introducing books children can connect with, such as “Esperanza Rising,” a story about a child in a migrant working family.
“I believe if they’re invested in the character, they’re going to be invested in reading,” she said.
As a teacher, Tart likes to get students excited about learning and one way is through game-based learning. Some of the Social Studies questions range from country populations and historic moments like the construction of the Berlin Wall.
“I talked to a lot of kids and almost every kid would go home and play video games for hours and hours,” Tart said. “Even though they fail, they keep on trying.”
She wants that attitude to carry over into the classroom for daily lessons and tests.
“I’m trying to instill in these kids that failure is not always a bad thing,” Tart said. “They can keep learning from it.”
Tart is originally from Murphy, a town in Cherokee County. After graduating from high school, she earned a degree in elementary education from Mars Hill University in Asheville. Her original plan was to study computer science, but her professor Dr. Deb Morris had a major influence on her future career when she took an education class for an elective.
“Every time she would walk into the classroom, she would say ‘good morning scholars,’” Tart said. “That meant so much. This lady doesn’t know me and she thinks I’m a scholar and that’s important.”
After her college days, she came to Sampson County through the Teach for America program, which places leaders from colleges in low-income areas needing teachers. Tart was supposed to stay for two years and surpassed that commitment.
“I just fell in love with Union Intermediate School and these kids,” she said. “This is my family now. I didn’t know anyone before I came here.”
After doing an interview with Principal Jim Workman, Tart packed her stuff in her car and made her way to Sampson County.
“It took me awhile, but I saw that in Sampson County people are kind and welcoming,” she said. “These kids deserve the best education that they can get and I think they’re getting it here.”
The fourth-year teacher is now calling her students “scholars” too, just like her professor said to her several years ago. For Tart that encouragement applies to not just academics but kindness, being a good citizen and putting out the best effort.
“No matter what walks of life they’re coming from, no matter what home life is like, I think they’re scholars and they’ve shown me that every day. I’m very proud of them. My students got me where I am, but I’m honored to be representing Sampson County because I know there’s great students and great teachers out there.”
She enjoys being a member of the Union District and is looking forward to traveling to China in the summer with area teachers for educational purposes. Through the Simple Gifts program, Tart went to several European countries to learn about World War II and historic places such as the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“They were on the edge of their seats and so engaged in learning,” she said. “It was probably one of my favorite moments as a teacher.”
Tart expressed that she hopes the students are inspired to reach beyond Sampson County and see other places.
“I hope that it inspires them to say I can do whatever I want to. Sampson County is great, but I can go out and be whatever I want to be and these kids can.”
To make connections around the world, Tart started Postcards for Scholars, which allows students to receive cards from different countries.
“These kids don’t get the opportunity to get out and see the world,” Tart said. “Part of being a scholar is being a global citizen, so we collect postcards from around the world. We’re up to 500 now.”
Outside of Union Intermediate School, Tart is assisting North Carolina Department of Public Instruction by educating other teachers about using technology in the classroom. Tart is ready to prepare for the regional teacher of the year competition, which is followed with a chance to be the top teacher in North Carolina.
“Sampson County is one of the best places to be in North Carolina because of the people and the students,” Tart said. “I hope to go on and represent not only the students but the staff of Sampson County the best I can.”
Workman feels that Tart is an excellent teacher.
“Her classroom is one that students enjoy immensely,” Tart said. “She is an innovative educator who thinks outside of the box. She will attempt anything she researches that will help motivate, encourage and keep the interest of her students. Education is her calling.”
He also applauded her efforts during her years at Union Intermediate to teach professional development at the school and districts throughout the state.
“She is passionate about what she is involved in,” Workman said.