Kim Jones (BA 2005 in English, MaEd in 2006 in Teaching)

English Teacher at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – 9-12 in Chapel Hill, NC

Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?

Headshot of Kim Jones, she is a Black woman with short blonde curly hair, wearing a black shirt and a big smile

I am in my 16th year of teaching with Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. I currently teach multiple levels of English 10 with a focus on World Literature. In addition to teaching, I work with students and district leaders on a number of equity-focused initiatives. Creating and maintaining classrooms, schools, and programs that are culturally relevant and responsive is a major personal passion! I’m currently serving on the Gifted and Talented Program Advisory Board, helping the district to equitably identify and foster the gifts, talents, and abilities of students from all backgrounds.

What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?

I’ve always loved reading, and since childhood, I’ve had a passion for sharing my love of literature with others. I had incredible primary teachers who fostered that love and showed me the impact great teachers can have on a student’s life.

The most significant motivator to my current career was my father. At 7 years old, I discovered my father was illiterate. I was shocked and saddened by this discovery. Shocked because my father had a high school diploma and was gainfully employed in a management position at the time. I was saddened to realize that same diploma had little to no value because the skills it was meant to represent were absent. My father, a 6’3 Black man with a warm smile, quiet demeanor, and friendly personality, had simply been passed along through 13 years of public school with little to no accountability for the quality of this education or mastery of skills. While teachers may have thought they were helping out a poor, young, Black man by giving him the diploma that would allow him to obtain one of the many factory jobs available at the time, they were not considering the long lasting impact his illiteracy would have on his future or that of his future family. Illiteracy is disability with constant and continual ramifications. From that moment forward, I knew I wanted to work in a profession that would help to address and prevent such a thing from happening again.

My undergraduate experience at Wake Forest was a huge motivator in choosing where I wanted teach. As an undergrad, I remember discussing educational backgrounds with many of friends and peers. One of the most impactful facts that these conversations revealed was that most of my White peers had had few to no Black teachers in their academic career.
I firmly believe “who you learn from” directly influences “who you believe you can learn from”. When students, even the brightest of the bright like those who attend Wake, only have White teachers, it deprives them of critical and beneficial experiences that come with learning from diverse instructors. Patterns create norms, and experiencing and appreciating the pedagogy, perspectives, and insights of Black teachers as a regular facet of education is critical for all students who want to succeed in an ever-diversifying world.

With this experience in mind, I choose to work in college town with a legacy of investment in its public schools and academic achievement, but also one in need of more diversity in its teaching population. For the past 16 years, I’ve been able to teach and invest in the lives of countless, incredible students and in doing so enhance their vision of what an education and an educator can look like.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?

The most challenging aspects of my career are the current increase in non-academic issues teachers are being asked to address and determining how to balance them with our instructional goals and responsibilities. The pandemic and the resulting transition to hybrid and virtual instruction exacerbated many social-emotional and psychological issues among students. When schools returned to “normal” in-person instruction, they brought these realities into the classroom with them and schools are having to revisit, revise, reassess, and reallocate resources to meet these unique needs.

I, and most teachers I know, am navigating these challenges by focusing only on the most essential learning goals, prioritizing self-care and mental wellness, and building trusting, caring relationships with students that will allow them to reach out for help when they need it.

What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?

There are an infinite number of responsible, healthy, moral, wellness sustaining choices you can make that will help your life. Sometimes the options can seem so massive that you may feel nervous about choosing any particular one to practice. Don’t be immobilized by choices! Pick a few things that will work within your current agenda and do them with fidelity. They will become the new norms of your life and the improvements they bring will also become your norm. Tackle a few at a time and regularly assess if they’re working for you. As your life changes so will the helpful habits you’ll need to navigate each phase. Keep your eyes, heart, and mind open and you’ll be ready to tackle them as needed.

We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?

Shared interests and passions are the foundation of most of my relationships; I build my network based on authentic places of connection. From fellow teachers, to fellow equity advocates, to others invested in community service, I’ve built my professional and personal network with people who share and expand my passions and purpose. Professional conferences, community non-profits, and charitable civic events have all been great venues to meet new associates and have provided opportunities to maintain and foster those connections. While these spaces may feel overwhelming or the demographics of membership my seem alienating at first, it’s so important to engage with and contribute to such purpose-driven groups. From commiseration and encouragement over shared challenges, to pedagogical advice, sharing of best practices, and introductions to other educational professionals, my network has been an invaluable asset to my professional and personal growth.

Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?

I was lucky enough to be assigned a phenomenal, veteran mentor teacher in my first year of teaching, and 16 years later, she remains a trusted and valued confidant and advisor. Mentorship is not simply for novice professionals; even the greatest athletes have coaches! Having a great mentor allows you to not only trouble shoot problems and ask for advice, but also to have someone who encourages your growth and professional development, even if it takes you in a new direction. My mentor was a major encouraging factor in my obtaining National Board Certification, taking on leadership roles within my school community, and gaining confidence in my voice as an equity advocate and change leader. Thankfully I’ve reached a point in my career where I can now offer similar mentorship to peers and young educators.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?

If any current students or young alum are considering a career in education, I would definitely encourage them pursue it. Schools are one of the best avenues to truly work and live a life based in “Pro Humanitate”. The intellectual, personal, and social good that teachers can forge, foster, and facilitate in the lives of students and families is unmatched!

With that said, there’s a popular quote that’s often shared in education circles, “Teachers don’t teach for the income, they teach for the outcome.” While the spirit of this quote is lovely, it also reflects one of the greatest challenges to a lifelong career in education: compensation. As a nation, we hold teachers in high esteem, but somehow salaries have yet to reach levels that reflect such veneration.

I was incredibly fortunate to attend Wake Forest on a full academic scholarship as a Joseph G. Gordon scholar, and when graduate school came around, I was again blessed to be accepted into the Education Department as a Master Teaching Fellow. These two awards allowed me to finish both of my degrees with little to no debt. This economic freedom gave me the opportunity to pursue a career in public education.

For any student or other alum seeking a career in teaching, take the time to actively research school districts and seek positions in those districts that have a clear history of financial investment in their schools and staff. Many communities have realized that competitive salaries are the best way to attract and retain quality teachers. Know your worth and seek employment in a district that does as well.

What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?

My current professional development is focusing on enhancing culturally relevant and responsive teaching practices in the wake of the pandemic. New needs have emerged and teachers and schools must be prepared to meet them for all learners. This means investigating the ways that broad issues like academic anxiety, work/life balance, and other social-emotional issues facing students present themselves in underrepresented populations.

Story published in December 2021. For current updates about Kim, visit her LinkedIn page.