From Lee County Schools

CULLOWHEE — Lee County High School math teacher Kirby Forbes was named runner-up — out of 27 finalists — for the fourth annual Empower N.C. Beginning Teacher of the Year Award in a ceremony held Thursday night at Wester Carolina University.

Forbes, in her second year at LCHS, finished behind only Natalia Mejia, a middle school teacher from Cabarrus County.

The program described Forbes as “engaging and motivating,” highlighting the effort she makes to break down material to the smallest detail and help students build it back to gain complete understanding of a concept.

“We are incredibly proud of Ms. Forbes, not just for this recognition, but for the energy and enthusiasm she brings to her classroom and our students at LCHS each day,” said Dr. Andy Bryan, superintendent of Lee County Schools. “Our school community and student experiences are better because of her dedication to seeing each student succeed.”

Raised in Sanford, Forbes graduated from Meredith College with a degree in mathematics, two teaching licensures, and a dance studies minor. She was a Teaching Fellow at the school and was president of Meredith’s Jazz and Tap Company.

“I always knew growing up that I wanted to be a teacher, but in college I had some professors that told me that I was so good at math that I should go into a field where I could make more money and use my math skills,” said Forbes. “So, for one semester I switched my major, but I missed being in the classroom. I missed all my education classes. So, I went back and met with the Teaching Fellows Director and I was like, ‘Please, can I get back in?’”

She added, “I went back into education and I think going through that experience showed me that teaching is definitely a calling. It is not something that anybody can do. It has to be something you are passionate about because there are going to be people who tell you that you could make so much more money going into another field. If it is what you are passionate about and you know you want to make a difference in kids’ lives, then you just have to follow your heart and do it.”

After spending some time in Orlando working at several theme parks, Forbes returned to North Carolina and dove into teaching math. She said she is passionate about making sure her students feel safe, motivated and encouraged while in her classroom. Her professional goal as a math teacher is to help students get excited about math and encourage their curiosity in the subject. She hopes that each student’s time in her classroom helps them move beyond memorizing material, gaining a true understanding and appetite for the subject.

“One thing that is really cool about Lee County High School is how diverse it is,” Forbes said. “I always thought that I would want to teach AP Calculus and higher-level math classes, but now that I’m in the classroom and I’m working with the lower0level math classes, I have a lot of kids in those classes that need me, and I’m able to make a difference in their lives.”

Forbes said she was lucky to have a lot of great teachers when she was a student at LCHS.

“I’ll never forget Coach Hardin, my AP Calculus teacher, who made a really big difference in my life, and I just wanted to that for students back in the same place.”

Forbes has a unique way of connecting with her students on a daily basis, and it starts from the first day that they walk into her classroom. “A lot of kids that come into my classroom on the first day they already tell me that they hate math and they say, ‘I might like you as a teacher, but I’m not going to like math. I just hate math.’”

She takes those kinds of words as a personal challenge, determined to break through to each student.

“I have to work really hard to find ways to help them like math and to build a relationship with them. I just start by trying to find fun ways in the classroom to help them like math.  I’ve seen a lot of growth in my students, the numbers and the data are there, but I can also see that their mindsets have changed. By the end of the semester, I can tell that even if math isn’t their favorite subject at least they feel more confident that they can do it.”

Coming home from a statewide conference with a major recognition was not something she expected.

“I was around those 26 other teachers, and everyone there is just so talented,” she said. “They all had so many awesome ideas that they use in their classroom. I really learned a lot from them. I just really wasn’t expecting to place or win. I thought anyone there was deserving to be honored. It is nice to be recognized. I know in a lot of other careers there are chances to get promoted and get recognized a lot more than there is for teachers, so that makes it more exciting.”