Emilee Higdon Named North Carolina Beginning Teacher of the Year

Emilee Curtis Higdon ’18, a high school English teacher at Union Academy in Macon County Schools, has been named the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2021 Prudential NC Beginning Teacher of the Year. The award was presented in a special ceremony on the campus of Western Carolina University on April 15.

Higdon is the second recipient of the award, introduced by NCCAT to honor beginning teachers and retain teachers who show promise as excellent teachers and education leaders in North Carolina public schools and public charter schools.

In the press release, Higdon was described as a beacon of positivity. Her principal noted: her unrelenting courage to embrace opportunities to help her students grow makes her an ideal example of a leader. A student said her style of communication makes the learning process feel more collaborative. The classroom works together as a group and she hears what each student has to say.

“I am thrilled to see Emilee receive this recognition,” said Denise Ousley-Exum, coordinator of the secondary education program at UNCW’s Watson College of Education. “She is passionate about teaching, deeply dedicated to relationships and invitational in her leadership style. Emilee is an extraordinary educator and I am so pleased others have recognized the strengths we saw in her early on.”

Higdon chose to become a teacher because she “wanted to make a difference and see the difference,” she said, and UNCW’s secondary education program provided strong preparation for her career.

“The skills professors taught us and advice they offered prepared us to be in the classroom,” she said. “The opportunities we had to be in several different schools was so useful, and the classes on diverse students has influenced my teaching every day. My favorite thing about being a teacher is that every day is different, and every day is an opportunity to be a kid's champion. It is the most rewarding profession, even on days that don’t feel rewarding. Our impact goes far beyond anything we will ever know. My kids make me laugh, make me cry, and make me want to keep coming back!”

Higdon said she was honored to receive the Beginning Teacher of the Year award and has enjoyed sharing the honor with her students.

“I teach at an alternative school, and we aren't used to getting praise,” she said. “I've been able to bring my students into this celebration, letting them know that I couldn't have received this award without them. It is an opportunity to advocate for students who get overlooked, and to be a voice for teachers and students. I'm honored, humbled, and excited to see what happens this year.”

Laura Beirne Mulligan ’20, Davie County Schools; Kimberly Robinson ’15, ’18M, Union County Public Schools; and UNCW residency licensure student Schala Harper, New Hanover County Schools were among the 25 other finalists honored at the awards ceremony on April 15. Guest speakers for the evening were: LeAnne Rose, NCCAT 2019 BTOY winner; Maureen Stover, North Carolina 2019 Teacher of the Year; and Catherine Truitt, North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Higdon will receive a $5,000 cash prize, participate in a GoGlobal NC trip, and her school will receive instructional supply funds. The runner-up, Robin Mehler, who teaches at Lucy S. Herring Elementary School in Asheville, will receive $2,000. All finalists take part in professional and leadership development at NCCAT.

For more information about the NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year award visit the website.

Media Coverage

EducationNC, April 19 Emilee Higdon named 2021 Beginning Teacher of the Year
The Southern Scoop, April 16 Macon Teacher named NCCAT 2021 Prudential NC Beginning Teacher of the Year