Hollister native Jessica Richardson dreamed of becoming a teacher her whole life. Today, she has not only achieved her dream, but she also was named Teacher of the Year for Nash County Public Schools.
In elementary school, Richardson never hesitated when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. The response was always the same: “a teacher.” Richardson played teacher with her dolls and stuffed animals. She remembers how much her younger brother hated pretending to be her student when she taught him lessons.
Richardson’s dream didn’t change as she grew older and took a teacher cadet course in high school.
“This course confirmed for me that I was born to be a teacher,” she said.
Richardson was a North Carolina Teaching Fellow at N.C. State University in Raleigh, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary science education with a concentration in biology. Serving as an intern teacher during her senior year cemented the idea that teaching was, and always would be, her passion.
Now in her sixth year as an educator, Richardson taught Earth and environmental science, biology and physical science at Corinth Holders High School in Johnston County before coming to Nash-Rocky Mount Early College High School two years ago.
There, she teaches honors biology, serves as head of the Science Department, peer instructional rounds lead, and as a beginning teacher mentor. Next school year, she will become co-chairwoman of the Nash-Rocky Mount Early College School Improvement Team.
Richardson is currently pursuing a Master of School Administration degree from N.C. State, where she is an N.C. State Educational Leadership Academy fellow.
“It is my hope to inspire other teachers by taking what I have fostered in my classroom and building school connectedness,” she said. “As someone put it, ‘not leaving the classroom, just getting a bigger one!’”
Richardson describes her work in the classroom as “teaching with my heart and being authentic.” She loves the opportunity to build relationships with her students.
“I want my students to know that I see them, first and foremost as a person,” Richardson said. “A person with real challenges, and that I genuinely care about them. I bring my whole self and whole heart in the classroom every day because that’s what really matters.”
She also strives to teach her students, through words and by example, that they should never give up. Richardson wants the young people she teaches to view challenges as speed bumps on the road of life, not stop signs.
She recalled that, growing up, her family was homeless at times, and sometimes lived in a hotel. Sometimes, clothing donations from church and community members provided her school clothes. In high school, she worked second and third shifts to help pay the bills — while she was taking honors classes and maintaining straight A’s. During times when Richardson felt alone at college, professors and friends provided support.
She reflects on those years not as times of sadness, but as times when she learned the life lessons of resilience, humility, responsibility and appreciation of what one has.
“These lessons influenced so much of what I am as a person and as a teacher,” Richardson said. “I am empathetic because I know that my students are more than just students. They experience challenges, just as I did. This is why building relationships is the most important to me in education. You just never know what a student is going through.”
Today, she and her husband, Deitrick, have a son, Braedyn, who is almost 2 years old.
Richardson appreciates the strength, support and encouragement provided by her extended family of the Hollister community and the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe. They celebrated her Teacher of the Year honor with her through phone calls, texts and online messages.
“The strength of my people has helped me in my adult life in that everyone welcomes you with open arms,” she said. “I have felt supported and encouraged, even before receiving this honor. I know that there is always a home open, an ear to listen, and a heart to love.”
For Richardson, being named Nash-Rocky Mount Teacher of the Year proves once again that she chose the right profession.
“To me, it symbolizes that I listened to my heart and that teaching is really what I was meant to do,” she said. “It is an acknowledgement of what I bring each day to the classroom. It is a prestigious honor that I will hold dearly for the rest of my life.”