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The Heart of an Educator

The Heart of an Educator

Tamika Walker Kelly, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators is committed to advancing the cause of public education.

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is North Carolina’s largest professional employee organization and NCAE’s members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs.

Substantial caught up with the organization’s president Tamika Walker Kelly to talk about her journey as an educator and why she is passionate about ensuring quality public education across our state. 

The Lumberton native who spent her childhood in Fayetteville, NC, has been a public school educator for the past 15 years, teaching as an elementary school music specialist at Morganton Road Elementary in Fayetteville, until becoming the NCAE president. 

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SM: Tell us what led you to want to become an educator? 

TWK: I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. When I was smaller, maybe five or six, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher or a famous singer. 

My mom was a librarian. She worked in the public library of Robeson County, and I just fell in love with school. I loved my teachers, I liked “playing school” and all that stuff. It wasn’t until high school that I for sure knew I wanted to be a music teacher. My choral teacher, Michelle McNair was the person I was enamored with, I wanted to be a music teacher just like her. 

She went to East Carolina so I was like, I’m going to ECU too. I applied to the School of Music, went to ECU to get my Bachelor’s of Music Education, and I decided to come back home to Fayetteville to teach. I started my career at Morganton Road Elementary School and I taught there the whole time until I became NCAE president.

SM: What would you say is one of the most important traits to have if you want to be an educator?

TWK: One thing that’s really important to be a successful and effective educator in my opinion is to be reflective. The needs of our students who come into our classrooms change on a day-to-day basis, and they definitely change on a year-to-year basis. So learning how to refine and craft your practice, being open and willing to learn new skills to adjust will help you be or become a successful educator. 

Also, you have to know your kids and know your community. There are a number of different ways to connect and build those relationships with them. You can’t do that if you’re only stuck teaching one type of way—if you have one type of mind frame or if you only have one certain set of skills. So being a reflective learner, being a forever learner, as I call it allows you to be a successful educator. I consider myself a forever learner. 

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SM: Tell us a little more about the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), how long has it been around, and what actually led you to want to become the president?

TWK: So this is actually one of my favorite things to talk about. The North Carolina Association of educators also known as NCAE is the largest professional organization for public school workers in the state. 

So when we talk about public school workers, we’re not talking just about teachers. We’re talking about bus drivers, custodians, superintendents, administrators, every single human who works in a public school building. 

The history of our organization is one that I am most proud of. So the organization in its current iteration has been around since 1970. We are celebrating our 52nd year in existence. But it actually has roots that go all the way back to the 1800s. NCAE is the merger of two teacher organizations in the state of North Carolina, the North Carolina Education Association NCAE, which was primarily white educators in the state of North Carolina, and the North Carolina Teachers Association, which was the black educator organization—and those two organizations merged on July 1 of 1970 to create NCAE so we have been on the forefront of public education issues for more than a century. We have led the charge as this iteration of this organization for more than 50 years.

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