We have been waiting and waiting and WAITING to finally bring to you the first of many of High Point’s Extraordinary Educators’ stories. If you missed our first article describing the story behind the reason for our Extraordinary Educators, you can find it here.
Today, we are kicking off our series highlighting two High Point teachers, Natalya Moore and Michael Holden, high school teachers who make our city great. Read below to learn more about them.
Natalya is more than just a teacher. She’s a justice warrior, a motivator and a purpose pursuer. As a high school English teacher at T.W. Andrews High School, Natalya wants each and every one of her students to feel purposeful and empowered in their studies.
“Having the opportunity to connect with my students each day to help them realize that they matter,” Natalya says, is her motivation each day. “I never want any child to feel ostracized, belittled, inadequate, or unworthy. So knowing I get to put a smile on a face, influence someone’s self-esteem, publicly recognize their positive efforts and actions, and just make kids feel good about themselves gets me excited about going to work every day.”
Natalya was nominated to be one of our extraordinary educators by Andrews principal, Marcus Gause, who said this of Natalya: “She is a stellar educator with a passion to transform the school community and to bring out the best in everyone around her.”
We asked Natalya a few burning questions and here are her responses.
Q. What is your most memorable teaching moment?
A. My most memorable teaching experience was during an assigned debate with my 11th graders. Their arguments were well prepared, points were relevant and current, and their energy was electric. Even when the debate took a turn, my students were sharp in their thinking and really engaged in the process. This was one of the proudest days of my career. It showed me that when motivated, our kids will achieve.
Q. What would you like the High Point community to know about your school?
A. The community needs to know that our school needs its support. The students there are no different than students anywhere else. With proper and sufficient resources, all children can excel. Donate to our academic departments not only our sports programs.
Q. Who or what influences your teaching style?
A. Injustice influences my teaching style. Teaching for me is activism. In addition to performing well on assessments, I want my students to gain knowledge about the world and then feel/be empowered to do something. I do this through the selection of reading material. Reading is central to English class so I make it count.
Q. What is your favorite Book?
A. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. So many great lessons.
Q. If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?
A. You have a unique purpose. Work every day to find it and pursue it. Your outside circumstances and/or obstacles are NOT greater than your inner potential. It always seems impossible until it’s done. So, whatever your “it” is, you can get there. Remember that no one wakes up one day and is successful or has what they want. It’s the little steps and milestones you make along the way that make you great.
Natalya is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, and later her master’s in English and African American literature. She also received her School Administration License from Gardner-Webb University.
Our second Extraordinary Educator this week is Michael Holden who was nominated by his principal, Dr. Shelly Nixon-Green. She said this of Michael: “He is an exemplary teacher, webmaster, graduation advisor, student mentor, club leader, and more.” Michael teaches 3D Modeling and Animation and Game Art and Design at High Point Central High School.
“For the uninitiated, 3D modeling is basically how to make the objects or characters that would go into a Pixar movie or video game,” Michael explains. “Game art and design is how to make your own games, including electronic and board games, and how to make them so that people will have fun and want to play again.”
Michael describes his classroom as a place where he wants constructive criticism to flow freely, as it often does in professional design circles. He recalls once when he used a new software – like a big digital whiteboard – to encourage students to brainstorm and then “pitch” a designed environment that the students would create together throughout the year. He gave them space on the whiteboard to work, and space to critique one another’s work, which he hoped would motivate all of them to adapt and build off the feedback.
“I had taught this group of students multiple times before, and historically they were pretty quiet,” Michael says. “Getting them to critique each other’s work was often like pulling teeth. Asking them whose project they liked, and why, was often met with crickets – or worse – one-word answers.”
But as the students worked, Michael noticed that all their quiet was actually giving way to rapid fire brainstorming.
“Several students had finished their preliminary pitches, and there were tons of questions and answers
being written and answered – whole paragraphs of information, and a lot of back-and-forth dialogue,” Michael explains. “Here was all the constructive criticism I’d been looking for all semester – and it was silent, but in a good way. And now I have another way to reach my students.”
We asked Michael more about his work in education in High Point.
Q. What would you like the High Point community to know about your school?
A. There is such a variety of learning happening in our school, and it’s not just in my classroom. School isn’t just sitting at a desk for hours while a teacher drones on about a subject. It’s amazing to see the projects and lessons going on in the classrooms of our school. Teachers at Central do an amazing job at making lessons current, relevant, and interesting. Sometimes I even find myself a little envious at activities I see students doing in their science classrooms, or the field trips I see other career classes going on and, especially, the food being cooked in our culinary classes!
Q. How have you made an impact in the community?
A. I run several clubs at High Point Central and, for the most part, I feel that the students served by these clubs are underrepresented in other extracurricular activities. They don’t participate in school sports, or band, or typical service organizations, or even theatre. These clubs are often just for fun, but they also give these teens a safe space to socialize and just be teens. I think the Tabletop Club (which primarily plays Dungeons and Dragons) is really important. While it is a fun game, it really builds students’ empathy, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. The role-playing in particular is wonderful at building students’ courage and getting shy students out of their shells – and that breeds confidence that finds its way back into the classroom.
Q. How do you show your school spirit?
A. I am mostly a school t-shirt guy, which can be pretty boring – but I augment that by designing a lot of the school’s t-shirts, and even specific ones for my classes. I’m quite excited about a new retro-styled one that I designed over the summer.
Q. What has been the funniest moment in your classroom?
A. At the end of my level one 3D modeling class we learn about “bipeds,” which are basically pre-made human skeletons that you can animate in the software. They can walk around, and you can individually move all their joints to animate all sorts of movement. Inevitably students will figure out that the biped is not restricted in how it moves the way that real humans are, and that usually makes for a hilarious and raucous lesson as they experiment with sillier and sillier motions to have the bipeds attempt.
Michael is a graduate of Virginia Tech where he received his bachelor of architecture degree, and Savannah College of Art and Design where he received a master’s of game development.
Discovering our High Points,
Photography by Maria West Photography