Flowe named Conservation Teacher of the Year
Each year Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District holds Awards Night for winning students who have participated in its five contests. While the evening celebrates student achievement, one special adult is also honored by the district as the Conservation Teacher of the Year. Sharon Flowe, an environmental science teacher at Tuscola High School, was this year’s recipient.
Flowe, an animal lover who graduated from Warren Wilson College, majored in biology pre-vet but fortunately for her students, ended up teaching after attending the University of North Carolina in Asheville for additional courses and her teaching certification. And as any good educator knows, you never stop learning. In addition to being a full-time teacher, the busy mother of three is currently enrolled in the North Carolina Environmental Certification program. Flowe also spent some time in Raleigh last July attending a week-long Envirothon school for advisors offered by the Division of Soil and Water of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, taking specialized training in preparation for becoming an Envirothon advisor.
“She is one of the best teachers I know, and I’ve been teaching 31 years,” said Mark Ethridge, a teacher and coworker of Flowe’s. “She is passionate about teaching and is always learning new things. Her kids love her. That's a great testament for any teacher.”
Although Ethridge retired from teaching at Tuscola two years ago, he remains very much involved in education, including being lead instructor for the YES (Youth Environmental Stewardship) Camp offered by Haywood SWCD. Since retired teachers are not allowed to drive school buses, it was Sharon Flowe who stepped in to help and chose to stay with the YES Camp, now serving as a second instructor for the camp. And while it’s one thing to picture her in a peaceful outdoor setting helping students identify leaves or animal tracks, the complete picture when it comes to Flowe would include her concentrating on safely negotiating a bus filled with noisy, excited kids around the graveled curves winding into Cataloochee Valley for the overnight camping trip that is the grand finale.
Much as she loves the outdoors, the classroom offers Flowe the opportunity to teach her favorite subject, environmental science. She also serves as the sustainability person there, working closely with fellow teacher Suzanne Orbock-Miller who coordinates recycling aluminum cans gathered after ball games. In fact, the two recently were recipients of Community Pride awards from the Commission for a Clean County for their efforts. And “community” is a word that Flowe, a New Jersey native, uses when describing the people here who have been such a great influence in her life, saying she learns new things all the time.
In spite of her hectic life — or maybe because of it — Flowe makes time for running. And she finds inspiration in the moving words of a poem by Susan Polis Schutz that express what Flowe has found to be true when it comes to the simple, basic things in life that really matter. The final line of the poem speaks of the world being a wonderful place, that we are so lucky to be a part of it. And while Sharon Flowe says she reads the poem “almost every day” as her personal affirmation, one only has to be around her to sense that she has long carried its message inside her and, better yet, that she lives it.
Gail Heathman is a certified environmental educator and education coordinator for Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District.