As a rule, most “new” teachers aren’t selected as a school’s teacher of the year. Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies Teacher of the Year Tod Ray, however, is an exception to that and other generalities assumed about educators.
Although he grew up in a family of teachers, Ray chose to enter the US Naval Academy, and serve his country for over a decade before returning to school at NC State University for a master’s degree in Science Management, after which he worked in the private sector as an engineer. Fast forward several years later. Ray found himself not all that satisfied with his worklife, and ready to pursue a more meaningful career. Considering his early influences, and the joy he experienced in his roles as parent/teacher/coach for his children and their friends, teaching seemed to fit the bill. And so he headed back to school to obtain his teaching certification at UNC Chapel Hill. He emerged with a teaching certificate and a master’s degree.
With regard to personal gratification, Ray has not been disappointed. “Regardless of where the students starts, in need of remediation or significantly ahead of peers, seeing an individual expand, helping students understand things they did not think possible, offers the same level of joy.
It's a good thing that Ray has that perspective, because he is at school helping students, a lot. Most days he can be found in the classroom before and after school - unless it's winter and he's coaching the school's wrestling team.
Principal Jean Taylor's comments are representative of how Ray is regarded by his administrators and colleagues alike.
"Tod Ray is passionate about his subject and vested in the way he teaches each student," observes Taylor. "Often, math teachers are typified by being more about the 'facts' or 'numbers' and do not see the 'in-betweens.' Tod is one of those teachers that sees and grasps the issues surrounding adolescence in education. His instruction reflects his willingness to adapt as instructional practices evolve. This, with his intense content knowledge, combined with his experiences as a naval officer, engineer, and business leader, establishes his credibility, and provides him with daily opportunities to relate what he is teaching to the real world; answering the question posed by generations of math students, But how will I ever use this?"
Ray's commitment to developing engaging, product-based, cross-curricular projects for his students is in large part his answer to that question of relevancy: with these assignments, students tell Ray, and each other, how they can and will use what they are learning in math class, because they are applying it. Now.
Ray's life experiences have also provided both perspective and drive to see his students succeed to the best of their abilities. “If students were to identify a single goal for life, I assume most would include words like happy, satisfied, comfortable, wealthy, fun, rewarding, and gratified. However success is defined for or by each student, the path is filled with options and starts with education. Without education the opportunities for growth, career options, and life satisfaction are minimized,” Ray asserts. “There are as many paths as there are people creating them, but no path starts with ‘dropout or fail.’ With education there is hope, hope to reach potential.”
With that in mind, Ray says, “For myself, I believe that through experience, further training, trial and error, and hard work I will be able to reach more students, inspire more students and make learning fun for more students. Some days I am more effective than others, but lack of effort can never be the reason for a bad day. I must attempt, every day, to be the best teacher I can be.”