Heather Hopkins ’10 graduated from Honors at Appalachian State University with a degree in elementary education. She then went on to complete her Master of Arts in education with a licensure in gifted education from East Carolina University in May 2011. Heather has expressed a willingness to mentor current Honors students, and offers the following advice,
“Embrace your Appalachian community and experience. Enjoy every moment as a Mountaineer in Boone and then beyond!”
In what follows, Heather reflects on her Honors experience and what it has brought to her life. She currently lives in Charlotte with her husband, Honors Alumnus Jeremy Hopkins ’10 ’11, and their son Owen. Heather and Jeremy met in their first month in the Honors College. In describing what was most significant about her Honors experience, she noted,
“Honors opened my eyes to the variety of experiences and circumstances a person can have. Living in a community of people with similar abilities and different interests was great.”
She then further explained,
“I’m married to my college sweetheart, a man I meet my first month in East Hall back in September 2006. We’ve maintained friendships with people we met while at App. We’ve traveled together, volunteered together, and celebrated together. I’ve worked with multiple Appalachian alumni and there’s no one quite like them. We all have a fondness for Boone that cannot be replicated.”
Heather highlighted the value of her academic experience, and especially the Honors seminars. She said,
“My honors seminar had moments of silence and in conversation as we discussed a range of topics in Southern Literature and Culture. Some topics can be difficult to discuss but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. I’ve learned from Honors and my love of yoga that you need to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. Conversation in Honors was always an expectation.”
The Honors experience infused her approach to teaching and pedagogy. She shared,
"I remember one time when I told my 4th graders I wanted them to talk to each other and they looked at me like I had three heads. I embraced the chance for conversation and collaboration that App always included. Topics needed to be relevant to students and they had to be able to solve problems. In my teaching, I provided scaffolding to make that conversational success happen, and I knew the importance of a community from my time at App.”
Heather’s first job was as an Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) Facilitator at a rural Title I school. She taught forth and fifth grade reading and math to students who were identified as academically gifted. In this position, Heather was responsible for curriculum development, small group instruction, and technology integration. Of this experience, she stated,
“I was very fortunate to run a gifted program in an elementary school my first four years of teaching. My situation was unique in that students who were identified as gifted came to me for all of their reading and math instruction. The first three years my students were separated into two classes by grade level and there were approximately ten-to-fifteen students in each of my four classes. I loved the smaller group setting and how each child’s voice could be heard every day. I knew my students and parents well and could truly develop learners, thinkers, and readers. My last year at that school taught a combination class of about 20 gifted students. It was amazing!”
At the same time, Heather reflected on the real challenges of teaching, and stated
“The first year of teaching is always difficult and you can never be fully prepared for any year of teaching, although you may think you are ready. Each year brings new students, new parents, and new demands. The challenges of the first few years were learning to navigate a profession where you’re publicly evaluated every second of the day from the moment you walk into the school building to the moment you go to sleep. I had to learn to find a balance between work and home, and to deal with the constant criticism.”
After working as an AIG Facilitator in a rural Title I school for four years, she began working as a 5th grade classroom teacher in an urban Title I school. In this position, she was partnered with another teacher, and was responsible for reading and social studies. She explained,
“Title I schools are not created equal although they may all be labeled the same. I went from 100% of my students above grade to maybe one third on grade level and a drastic drop in parent, departmental, and district support.” In this new position, she found her experience in gifted education translated well. She was able to incorporate a variety of topics and technology to engage students. She was able to identify different levels of student knowledge and bridge the gaps."
Heather shared that Honors at App prepared her for driving students towards their highest aspirations. She said,
“My expectations were among the highest they have ever encountered and didn’t waver. I expected students to evaluate and critique just as I had done in my Honors classes.”
Heather is currently a home with my seven month old son, Owen. She stated,
“As my husband and I raise Owen, it is our goal to provide him with a range of knowledge and experiences so that he can relate to people and learn how to communicate.”
This is what she has gotten out of her Honors experience.
Heather hopes to return to education and to her my passion of gifted education. She reported,
“I miss it and know that’s where my heart belongs. Providing a challenge to a student who’s never faced one before and watch him/her succeed with hard work and persistence is worth it. The thinking, questioning, and processing from and of students is most engaging to me.”
Thank you Heather, for sharing your story with us, and for your willingness to work with our current students!
Top photo: Heather, Jeremy, and Owen Hopkins enjoying a May day near their home in Charlotte. Photo by Joni Warren ’10.
Story by: Garrett Alexandrea McDowell, Ph.D.