Teacher Tara Cumbee Inspires Students to be Change-Makers

by Sep 21, 2017People, South Brunswick

The boiling point for water is 212 degrees. When water boils, it creates steam. “With steam, you can power a nuclear power plant,” explains Tara Cumbee, a fifth-grade teacher at Union Elementary in Shallotte. “I tell my students that we do not want to be warm or cold water, but rather 212 degrees which actually brings about change.” Cumbee’s hope is that all of the children she comes in contact with have a passion for something in life and work to change the world no matter if it’s through an act of kindness or some great invention.

In her 14th year as an educator in Brunswick County schools, the popular teacher was recently recognized as the N.C. Social Studies Teacher of the Year. But the accolades don’t stop there. She was named Brunswick County Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year for the 2017-18 School Year, awarded a Walking Classroom grant, and chosen to serve on the NCCSS executive board as an honoree member for the 2017-18 school year.

On being named teacher of the year, Cumbee says “it’s a humbling experience because while I am so very grateful, I truly know it is because of all the great parents and teachers I am surrounded by in this county that makes me the teacher and colleague I am.”

The collaboration between teachers and education leaders, and well as the unity among the people in Brunswick County is the secret, Cumbee believes, to moving towards providing a great education for all children in the community. Whether it’s coming together to fight drug epidemics, supply food pantries, provide daily necessities, to attract school volunteers, “Brunswick County is thriving because of all the amazing people that do whatever it takes to build up our communities,” Cumbee says.

Teachers in the county, not unlike most in the nation, face challenges like student poverty, student bullying, not enough supplies, lack of parent involvement, student health issues, and supporting leadership. But Cumbee says the Brunswick County education system is headed in a positive direction.

“Teachers are working harder than ever to collaborate with parents to help children and other teachers deliver the best teaching practices that prove to support student growth,” she says. “I love preparing lessons that I know are going to open my kids up to more curiosity and questions.”

Everything positive she remembers about her own education, Cumbee attributes to teachers that took the time to go above and beyond to help her succeed. She remembers falling in love with school when she was in the fifth grade—even though she accidentally killed the class hermit crab.

“He pinched my hand and I slung him, and his body ripped in half,” she laughs. Maybe that’s where she gets her own fondness for class science experiments.

Cumbee excepts nothing less than a desire to make the world a better place from her “world changers” as she calls her students. She gets inspired when her students flourish through action-based research. Her strategy is to get children to learn and think globally but act locally.

“Last year my students worked to bring about share tables in schools,” she says. Share tables are strategies that encourage the consumption of nutritious foods and reduce food waste. “This year they are already asking: “What are we going to do to change the world?” My reply is: “Why are you asking me?” But let me know how I can help you.”

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