Quirky teacher claims recognition

Hundley named countywide teacher of the year
Sep 24, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Bethel Middle School sixth-grader Cordelia Bailey works out a division problem on her marker board before handing it to Sally Hundley. Hundley was named the 2013-14 Haywood County Teacher of the Year.

Anyone who walks into one of Sally Hundley’s sixth-grade classes at Bethel Middle School might notice something a little different — the class being instructed by a student and Hundley sitting at a desk taking a quiz with the other students.

Switching roles with a student is just one way Hundley strives to reach and motivate her students to excel in her science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and math remediation classes. It may have been teaching methods like this that earned Hundley the title of 2013-14 Haywood County Schools Teacher of the Year.

“A great teacher must be willing to go beyond the norm,” Hundley said. “Greatness requires a constant commitment to finding a new and better way to reach kids.  An accomplished teacher is a great student.”

After the recognition had sunk in, Hundley said she felt privileged to represent Haywood County schools.

“It is the way in which I make an impact on my world and, through it, find purpose,” Hundley said about teaching. “It is excellent to be recognized for that. My students truly are amazing and, I believe, that this award reflects the work that they do, the impact that they are making, and the world that they are creating.”

“Along with excitement and appreciation, I feel humbled,” Hundley added. “To represent this amazing group of educators is such an honor.”

Hundley, a self-proclaimed oddball, said her quirks made her a unique teacher.

“Truly, I believe that being ready to be an oddball, a weirdo, is a great step,” Hundley said. “Students need teachers that bust through their expectations. That comes with a need to step out and leap into uncharted territory. One of the things that I love about middle school students is their willingness to accept the oddball in me.”

Hundley is also remembered for getting a tattoo after losing a bet with her eighth-grade at-risk students. Since her students achieved their testing goals, Hundley kept her word and got the tattoo as promised.

Hundley became acquainted with her teaching passion after becoming an NC Teaching Fellow, an organization that recruits and trains outstanding high school students toward becoming teachers for the North Carolina school system.

“Although I wasn’t certain it would be a good fit when I first started, 21 years later, education is a part of who I am,” Hundley said. “It was my husband, (fellow middle school teacher Ron Hundley) who always saw my potential as an educator.  In early days of doubt, he was clear that I would teach for generations.”

In the beginning, Hundley was inspired to teach social studies but she later decided to switch to math and science.

“As I’ve taught, my first loves of math and science have called me back to them,” Hundley said.

While teaching has allowed Hundley to travel to Disney theme parks, travel the world and work for Apple Computers, she admits her most rewarding experiences come from the classroom.

“The absolute greatest reward for me in teaching is watching students come alive in the subjects that I am teaching,” Hundley said. “When a teenager drops any worry about being cool and dives into what we’re learning, smiles when a connection is made, fist-pumps when a design works properly, I could jump 10 feet tall. When my math students begin to feel comfortable with math, start to trust their learning, and begin to develop confidence in a subject that had previously been a challenge, I am ready to cross great rivers.”

It is also rewarding to have a little freedom and flexibility in the curriculum, Hundley said. While most of the content she teaches is based on the North Carolina science curriculum and the Common Core curriculum for math, she is able to spice the content up in her own way.

“With that freedom, I can tailor my classroom to the interests and talents of my students,” Hundley said. “It’s the perfect atmosphere for me to stretch creatively and to use my love of designing curriculum. I have the freedom to work directly with the needs my students bring to the course. The key to this freedom and success comes from having administrative support that abounds.”

Hundley attributes her love for teaching to the supportive community in Haywood as well as the students whose lives she touched.

“The theologian Tony Campolo once stated, ‘People are as young as their dreams and as old as their cynicism,’” Hundley said. “When I am with my middle school students dreaming alongside them, I am younger than I was when I started this career.