By Price Parker
English Teacher Joan Westmoreland got great news last week; she was honored as a recipient of the US Presidential Scholar’s Program Teachers Recognition Award.
Westmoreland was sitting in the library with her students when Principal Mike Martin walked in to deliver the news.
“I felt terrific,” Westmoreland said, smiling.
The US Presidential Scholars Program began in 1964, and continues to provide recognition of exceptional students graduating from high school. Students who have completed the application process, which involves writing essays and citing school and community accomplishments, and are named Scholars nominate a teacher to receive the Teachers Recognition Award.
Westmoreland, who has a teaching career spanning 34 years, taught graduating senior Andrew Mullen last year in Pre AP English 3. Mullen was named one of two scholars from Mississippi through the US Presidential Scholars Program this year, and nominated Westmoreland as his most influential teacher.
“I chose Mrs. Westmoreland because she has had a lasting personal impact,” Mullen said. “In her English class, I became a better writer. But I also feel like I became a better person.”
“He’s an impressive young man. I taught him last year. We would talk about politics and history, or whatever was on his mind,” Westmoreland said.
“Mrs. Westmoreland is a wonderful, massively intelligent person, and I certainly hope that our futures will meet again,” Mullen said.
Westmoreland’s aspiration to become a teacher began as a child, when she would play “school” with her stuffed animals.
“I would set them up and teach them words,” she said. “I always wanted to be a teacher.”
Later, she kicked off her teaching career with her acceptance to Duke University, and then graduate school at the University of North Carolina. Since then, she has taught English and French classes at schools in North Carolina, Virginia, and Mississippi.
Westmoreland says that she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
“I love interacting with students,” she said. “It’s the most fun job in the world.”
Teaching does pose its challenges, as does any other occupation, but that doesn’t stop Westmoreland from enjoying her time as a teacher.
“The biggest challenge is motivating students who don’t want to be here,” Westmoreland said. “I try to find selections to read that they may enjoy more, and keep things interesting.”
This June, Westmoreland says she plans to attend the recognition ceremony in Washington D.C. for teachers and Scholars, where they will meet dignitaries in the education field.
“I was so shocked when Andrew chose me,” she said. “I feel so honored.”