ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) — Dr. Renee Steele is one of those teachers who strives to make every class engaging for her students and to encourage each of them that they can become anything they want to be.
Steele teaches seventh graders at Elizabethtown Middle School. When we visited, they were learning about Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press.
“I wanted them to make the connection about how things of the past, really makes a difference in today,” Steele said.
Having graduated from UNC Pembroke, The University of Phoenix and Fayetteville State University, she says teaching comes down to one thing.
“I believe building relationships are important,” she said. “When you know what’s going on with their life, then you can make that connection in the classroom.”
One way she’s doing that is through ‘Girls for Pearls’–a program for sixth through eighth grade girls enrolled at the school.
“I invite women who are successful in their own right and I teach them soft skills, I teach them that thru their stories, we all have a story, we all have things that have to overcome and this is what you need to do to perservere so that you can achieve your goals,” Steele said. “Its very, very important for them to be exposed to those things beyond the county, think beyond the state knowing that they can absolutely be movers, shakers and history makers.”
Her ‘can do’ attitude is evident as you enter class and with quotes around the room. Who does she credit for her positive outlook on life? Her parents.
“My mother and father have always believed in me,” she said. “My mother is deceased and the last thing she said to me before she left this earth is–‘what is you want to do with your life? What footprint? What legacy?'”
But there was another very special person in her life, her uncle.
“This was at my graduation in 2016,” she said while showing WWAY’s Jeff Rivenbark a picture from her desk. “Dr. Howard Blue was very instrumental in encouraging me throughout my professional career.”
Before he died in 2017, Blue sent her an email.
“He told me that he is proud of me and that because people encouraged him and inspired him, that he was in a position to do so and the reply that I said to him was that ‘I will pay it forward,'” she said.
‘Paying it forward’ is a mantra she lives by.
“Every day that I step in to this classroom, I am paying homage to my parents and my uncle who believed in encouraging and inspiring people and if I can do that if I can leave that legacy, if I can plant that seed, in the students that I teach, I will be doing what they did and their legacy will continue to live on,” she said.
Because of all the great things a viewer told us, we surprised her Friday, Dec. 7, by naming her as our Teacher of the Week sponsored by Mattress and Furniture Liquidators.
“We’re very lucky to have Dr. Steele here on our campus, the leader she is, she is very self motivated, she wants to help all students, the entire school, she is a great support system for staff, very encouraging, sends cards, we’re blessed that she’s here to encourage all of our students also very helpful that she builds up staff like she does, steps up, takes the lead and always wants to give a lending hand to students and staff alike,” said Principal Elizabeth Cole.
As for that $100 gift, we presented?
“I just want to make a difference in the lives of students and I’m going to use that $100 toward some sort of incentive for them because I believe if I plant it in them, its going to come back,” she said.
Dr. Steele believes all students have the ability to achieve greatness.
“We don’t teach bad students. They may be broken and it is up to us through positive words of affirmation and belief in them and encouragement to help mend them together,” and she added, “If you can make that connection, then they’re gonna want to receive from you. People don’t really care how much you know but they care about how much you care about them.”
For Dr. Steele, teaching isn’t simply a profession, it allows her to honor the character traits her parents instilled and to fulfill her promise to ‘pay it forward.’
If you have an educator you would like to nominate for WWAY’s Teacher of the Week, click her to submit a nomination.