Educators of the Year share reasons why they do what they do

photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

Teacher of the Year

Iotla Valley Elementary School was well represented in the naming of this year’s superlatives. Michelle Bell (L) was named Principal of the Year and third grade teacher Mariah Rascati was named Teacher of the Year.

Mariah Rascati has been named Teacher of the Year (TOY) for Macon County Schools. Rascati has been teaching for six years.  She taught first grade for three years in Florida, then when she moved to North Carolina in 2019 she began teaching third grade at Iotla Valley Elementary School. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla.

She says if she were to give advice to someone thinking about going into teaching it would be, “don’t underestimate the lifelong impact you can have in a child’s life. It is amazing how big a factor you can play in the life of a student by just spending nine months, a school year, with them. Being an educator is powerful.”

As far as what she likes about teaching Rascati said, “I love watching the students fall in love with learning. I love seeing their eyes light up after working so hard to understand a concept.  When it finally ‘clicks’ in their heads, that moment is so rewarding.”

She said one of the challenging things about teaching is, “the weight of taking things home, not just physical papers home to grade, but any burdens your students are carrying, you begin to worry, too.” 

Her favorite quote is “How monotonous the sounds of the forest would be if the music came only from the top ten birds,” By Dan Bennett.

Ms. Rascati is recently married to her “sweet” husband, Josh. They have no children yet and no pets.  She likes reading with a cup of coffee in her hand, enjoying the outdoors, attending live sports, traveling to new places and spending time with family and friends.

 “I’m very honored to have received this award for Teacher of the Year for Macon County.  This past year couldn’t have been possible without my incredible teammates, Pauletta Clark and Kayla Cabe and the supportive administration of Michelle Bell and Caleb Parham at Iotla Valley. I look forward to serving Macon County for years to come.”

Principal of the year

Michelle Bell, principal of Iotla Valley Elementary School, has been selected as Principal of the Year.  

Bell has been in education since graduating from the University of North Texas in 1988. She has taught second grade, fourth grade, fifth grade writing, fifth grade reading, and fifth grade science.

Some attributes that Bell says makes her a good principal is, “I like to think that I don’t ask my teachers or staff to do anything that I am not willing to do. I think we are here for our students, and we should do our best to serve them.

“I have the best teachers in the county, we work well as a team, helping each other out when we see a need.  Teaching is no longer an independent practice.”

Some advice she might give to someone considering entering the education field is, “I would suggest that they spend some time in a classroom first to see how the classroom has evolved from when they were in school. I would also suggest that they surround themselves with positive people of all ages, because we can learn so much from each other. Teaching can be challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges.”

Bell implemented “The Leader In Me” program, at Iotla Valley, several years ago.  She explains. 

“The Leader In Me is about empowering our students and helping them to recognize the strengths they have within themselves. It gives them the confidence to be engaged in their education and community, and gives them the tools they need to face any situation not only in the classroom, but outside the school walls. We teach them Covey’s 7 Habits of happy kids (highly effective people”.)

Bell is married to Joe Bell, and they have two daughters, Adrienne Buchanan and Savannah Bloemsma.

She loves spending time outdoors doing yard work and reading.

“I have two quotes that I really like. One is my signature on my emails, ‘Limits exist only in the souls of those who do not dream.’ (Philippe Petite), the other is, ‘Dreams come in a size too big so that we may grow into them.’

“I feel very honored to have been chosen as Principal of the Year. Our county has so many wonderful principals who work hard for the children of Macon County.

“I love my job, I love our community and students, and I love the people I get the privilege of working with every day.”

Support Person of the Year

Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin (R) presents FHS Assistant Principal Blair King with the Support Person of the Year Award.

Blair King was chosen as Support Person of the Year for Macon County Schools. King has been in the education profession for 16 years. Before becoming an assistant principal he taught Wellness and Physical Education. He was also district school Health Coordinator. 

King says he loves being inspired by kids and teachers.  

“I love seeing a community support a school. I love the ‘people’ aspect of education.  No matter what program or curriculum you have it doesn’t matter, if the focus isn’t on its people,” he said. 

Some advice he would give to someone thinking about going into the field of education is, “be in it for the kids. It’s the best profession in the world when your heart is in it.” 

He also says that he really can’t give teachers any advice. 

“The people here inspire me every day. All I can say is put kids first and invest in them. You won’t win them all and it may sound cliché but if you can impact just one child it’s all worth it.  You never know what that one encouraging word, that one game or concert you attend can do for a child. Sometimes all a child needs is someone to believe in them.

“Kids for the most part will perform to the expectations you give them. Aim higher, set higher expectations of them, leave preconceived notions or someone else’s experience with them at the door and raise the bar. They may just surprise you.”

Mr. King has a favorite quote from Rocky Balboa – “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”

King has been married for 17 years to his wife Ashley and they have two boys – Payton who starts high school this year and Parker who is in 6th grade. He loves football and baseball. 

“I love to stay active. When I finished high school I weighed in at 320 lbs. I lost around 100 of that in eight months in 2002 and have kept it off ever since. When I broke my neck and realized I wasn’t playing football anymore and I didn’t need to be that big and I set goals and went for them.”

Another quote he feels is important is “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning is fear.” Edmund Burke, Statesman and Philosopher.