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N.C. Teacher of the Year Darcy Grimes meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on April 23. Photo by Lawrence Jackson | The White House

Originally published: 2013-04-30 18:48:55
Last modified: 2013-04-30 18:51:03

Obama honors local teacher Darcy Grimes

Being named North Carolina Teacher of the Year has opened many doors for Darcy Grimes -- including the door to the Oval Office.

Grimes, who was a third-grade teacher at Bethel Elementary School before being launched into the limelight last spring, was recognized by President Barack Obama during a ceremony honoring the nation's Teachers of the Year on April 23 at the White House.

Prior to a speech by the president in the Rose Garden, each of the state teachers of the year met individually with Obama in the Oval Office.

Grimes said she shook the president's hand and talked briefly about her job and about the Boone area, which Obama has visited once before.

"It was completely like an out-of-body experience," Grimes said. "I was so excited to be able to meet him. It was amazing to hear him say 'thank you' for the work we do every day."

Obama recognized the National Teacher of the Year, Jeff Charbonneau of Washington, and spoke words of support for all educators.

"These folks did not go into teaching for money," Obama said. "They certainly didn't go into it because of the light hours and the easy work. They walk into the classroom every single day because they love doing what they do, because they're passionate about helping our children realize the best versions of themselves, so that our country can become the best version of itself."

The week in Washington, D.C., also included an opportunity to talk with second lady Jill Biden, who teaches full time at a community college in Virginia, as well as museum visits, dinners and a session with the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Arne Duncan.

"This year, I've given a lot of feedback and really worked with (the N.C. Department of Public Instruction) and met with the General Assembly for North Carolina-type policies, but it was really neat to be in the U.S. Department of Education and give feedback there, too," Grimes said.

With two months still to go in Grimes' term, rubbing elbows with the president and education VIPs is among the numerous milestones she has penned on her calendar this year. As an ambassador for the state's teachers, Grimes has spoken at numerous state-level conferences, provided feedback on existing and proposed policies, and traveled about 40,000 miles visiting 89 of the state's 100 counties so far.

She's introduced Gov. Pat McCrory at his inaugural ball, skydived with the U.S. Army Golden Knights, and will travel to India in July with 34 other educators to examine its education system.

Grimes said she has been surprised this year by the contrast in resources available in classrooms across the state. Within one week, she visited a third-grade classroom in one county with a one-to-one technology initiative, document cameras and Smart Boards, followed by one in another county that used only an overhead projector and chalk board.

"I knew there was a big difference in resources, but I didn't realize we had that much of a gap," she said.

In March, Grimes addressed the N.C. General Assembly about the importance of professional development and about Reading 3D, a relatively new literacy assessment program. She also has spoken about global education and integrating technology into every lesson in numerous venues.

Grimes also has served as an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, a role she will continue next year.

"When Darcy speaks, the board members listen," said N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.

"One of the times when I have heard her speak the most passionately is when the State Board of Education discussed the need to increase teacher salaries," Atkinson said. "She was very professional in her comments, but she was also very emphatic that we show how we value teachers in our classrooms by having wages that will not require teachers to have additional jobs."

Atkinson described Grimes as an excellent listener and a reflective person who keeps students first in her decisions. She said Grimes organized for the first time in April a Teacher of the Year summit that brought together district teachers of the year.

"If I had a student in elementary school, I would certainly want Darcy to be my child's teacher," Atkinson said.

Grimes said she is proud that she has been able to represent her peers and she's thankful for the support of her husband, Joseph, her school and the Watauga County Schools system.

"I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I wanted to leave some type of a legacy and I wanted to be a voice of teachers," Grimes said. "I feel like I've done that."

Despite what she called a "life-changing" year, Grimes said she is also looking forward to returning to Watauga County. She said she has missed the girls' running club she started at Bethel and being in the classroom.

Bethel Principal Randy Bentley said Grimes has made it a point to return to Bethel throughout the year, and several classrooms tuned in last week for the presidential presentation.

"It's still amazing to me that a little, small, rural school in the mountains has produced a North Carolina Teacher of the Year," Bentley said. "We're just really still very proud. She's represented the teaching profession and Watauga County and the state of North Carolina very well."