Karen Whiting, a 4th grade English Language Arts (ELA) and social studies teacher at Glenn C. Marlow Elementary, was named Henderson County Public Schools’ 2022 Teacher of the Year on Thursday at the award luncheon sponsored by AdventHealth and Boyd Chevrolet at Jeter Mountain Farm.
Whiting has 17 years of teaching experience, including middle and high school special education in Texas and North Carolina for the first half of her career. Now in her 9th year teaching at Glenn C. Marlow, Whiting is a treasured member of the Marlow Mustangs family and especially beloved by her students – who crafted #TeamWhiting shirts to show support during Whiting’s battle with breast cancer this year.
“Several things stand out to me when I think of Ms. Whiting,” says Assistant Principal Megan Alessi. “The first is the intensity she has for her teaching practices. The second is the ongoing steps she takes to always improve. And the last, and most important, is the love and joy that are completely reciprocal within her classroom and community.”
Whiting prioritizes building relationships with her students so they feel safe and loved, and to understand how each child learns best. “I make it a priority to really get to know them, including sitting with them at lunch, playing with them at recess, and using our morning check-in to hear their hearts,” says Whiting.
By using choice boards in her classroom, Whiting gives her students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning through individual learning styles and different strengths. She cultivates her classroom library and small group discussions to encourage students to share their thoughts, accept differences, and celebrate diversity. And, Whiting says, “Knowing my students well also allows me to help them pick ‘good fit books,’ which is a huge passion of mine as a 4th grade ELA teacher.”
Moreover, Whiting makes learning fun, says Alessi. “There’s never a boring day in her classroom.”
For example, Whiting hosts a “book café” for her students to sample different genres. “Each table is dressed like a café table, she brings battery operated candles, and plays Italian music,” Alessi says. “At each table is a different genre, and the kids travel to each table to ‘taste a book.’”
Whiting’s teaching philosophy extends beyond the classroom, and guides her leadership in various clubs and extracurricular activities at Marlow. She serves on the school’s STEM committee, co-leads the Marlow Run Club – which is open to any student or staff member and currently has 75 students involved – coordinates the annual “Marlow’s Got Talent” show, and helps with the theatre department at West Henderson High whenever she can.
“I choose to lead these activities because they give the students a place to express themselves, push themselves, and (it) gives them an opportunity to shine,” Whiting says.
“Ms. Whiting is inclusive,” says Alessi. “That’s definitely one of her strongest characteristics. She’s got an open door for everyone.”
Following Thursday’s reception at Jeter Mountain Farm, Whiting returned to Glenn C. Marlow Elementary, where she was greeted by her students and a giant banner at the front of the school. Whiting’s students proudly paraded their teacher through the school, where the rest of the student body and Marlow teachers handed her balloons and daisies – Whiting’s favorite flower.
“By the time she got to the end, she had a large bouquet,” said Alessi.
Like all 23 nominees from each elementary, middle and high school, Whiting was nominated by her peers for the designation of her school’s Teacher of the Year. Following extensive interviews with a selection committee comprised of an administrator, parent, board member and the previous teacher of the year, Whiting was selected to represent Henderson County Public Schools as its 2022 Teacher of the Year.
Traditionally, HCPS Teachers of the Year winners receive a commemorative plaque, an all-expense paid trip to a state education conference of their choice, and $1,000 from a sponsor. Beginning last year, the HCPS Teacher of the Year also receives $4,500 towards a vacation getaway of their choice, gifted by Boyd Chevrolet.