Lee County’s Teacher of the Year, Taylor Waters, is pictured with her inspiration, her grandmother Kathy Waters, a former principal at Greenwood Elementary School and longtime Lee County Schools educator.

From an early age, all Taylor Waters can remember wanting to be was a teacher. Eight years into her career at B.T. Bullock Elementary School, Waters has been named Lee County Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2023-2024.

To honor the district’s top educator, Wilkinson Chevrolet Buick GMC in Sanford gifted a new Buick Enclave for Waters to drive for the next 12 months, and 3D Community Church awarded Waters a $500 gift card.

Waters’ grandmother, Kathryn Waters — a longtime Lee County educator and former principal of Greenwood Elementary School — was on hand for the award presentation at B.T. Bullock on Wednesday.

“I distinctly remember being pre-school age in the Greenwood counselor’s office playing with Care Bears, and my grandmother would come to get me and take me through the halls,” Taylor said. “I do not remember seeing students, it must have been a workday, but I remember the teachers. I remember them making me feel special. I remember them lighting up with passion and joy as they spoke to my grandma.”

From those early days, Waters viewed school as a somewhat magical place, able to create feelings of passion, joy and drive. Bullock Principal Stefanie Clarke said those characteristics are evident in Waters and her approach to her students.

Taylor Waters pictured with Will Wilkinson, from Wilkinson Chevrolet Buick GMC, in front of her new Buick Enclave. Thanks to the gift from Wilkinson, Waters will drive the vehicle for the next year with no lease payment.

“It is evident that Ms. Waters is following her heart as an educator,” Clarke said. “She is passionate about all that she does. She is an exemplary teacher who has always been focused on building positive relationships with her students and she is adored by them all.”

Joy is one of the most evident traits in Waters’ daily work.

“I love what I do, and it is hard to narrow my most joyful time to one moment,” she said.

Waters said she has seen students’ eyes light up when they master a math skill that has troubled them for weeks, then go on to win a school math award the next year. She remembers a student telling her they hated reading at the beginning of the year and then begging for more time to stick their nose in a chapter book by the end of the year. That same students went on to join the Battle of the Books, volunteering to read 15 books in eight months.

Taylor Waters (center) pictured with B.T. Bullock administration, principal Stefanie Clarke and assistant principal Salvatore Cosimo.

“My most joyous moments are of student growth,” she said. “Growth looks different for each student, and it is such a joy to facilitate their progression through tenets like relationships and differentiation. Then I get to watch them flourish.”

Flourishing is something that Waters has done in her professional life. She received her undergraduate education at East Carolina University, earning a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and a Bachelor of Arts in English. In 2019-2020, she took part in the North Carolina Kenan Fellow Program and returned to the program in 2022-2023 as Kenan Fellow Faculty. Waters is National Board Certified and has assisted in facilitation, planning and mentoring through Lee County Schools’ summer enrichment program “Project Lift Off.”

Always looking to mentor and encourage fellow teachers, Waters said, “I would advise new educators to hold on to the positive, learn from the negative, and remember to meet students where they are.”

Clarke added, “She always goes above and beyond every day to meet students where they are and provides a fun, engaging learning experience for her students every day.  Ms. Waters is so deserving of this honor and will be an excellent representative of B.T. Bullock Elementary and Lee County Schools.”

— Story and photos courtesy of Lee County Schools