Terry: ‘I see myself as a lifelong learner’

Editor’s note: October is National Principals Month. The Pee Dee Post will publish profiles on each of the county’s 16 school principals as submitted by Richmond County Schools during the month.
Jamie Greene
Yvonne Gilmer
Ellen Mabe
Joyce McRae
Hal Shuler
Angela Watkins

By Mallory Brown
Special to The Pee Dee Post

Being a teacher is a tough job.

Leading a school filled with them may be even tougher. But Monroe Avenue Elementary School Principal Dawn Terry leads with confidence, and her school is a better place because of it.

Terry has been the principal of Monroe Avenue Elementary since July 2011, but like most others in her field, her journey began in a classroom.

Dawn Terry

Dawn Terry

“I think that I see myself as a lifelong learner,” she said. “I have always loved being in a classroom, and I just get excited about the whole learning process. Being a lifelong student is something of interest to me, and that’s what excites me about these children. I want them to love it as much as I love it.”

As a child herself, Terry’s mother was a strong advocate for her education.

“I am a first generation college student,” she said. “My parents were high school graduates and from the time we were really little my mom talked about us going to college — which I think is pretty amazing for someone who didn’t go herself … She really was the person speaking that in our lives constantly. School was the absolute most important thing we did. Bedtime was 9 o’ clock, period. We knew that next to God and family, school was right there at the top.”

Later in life, Terry said it was her math teacher, Trudy Watkins, who helped inspire her to pursue teaching as a career.

“I don’t know that I knew I wanted to teach,” she said. “I knew I was supposed to go to college, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to learn there … (Watkins) was the one who initially got me on this path of education.

“If I think about who influenced me the most, though,” Terry added, “If I look at myself and the biggest picture, I know that my parents and my family are responsible for who I am — which makes me as a mother know the value of what I do with my own children. I find myself saying things that I know sound just like them.”

Though she’d initially planned on attending college at Appalachian State, Terry changed her plans when a Teaching Fellows scholarship became available at East Carolina University. After graduation, Terry taught for two years in Scotland County before pursuing her master’s degree at UNC-Pembroke.

Her first memories in the classroom are likely similar to those of new teachers today.

“It was very overwhelming,” she admitted. “I was actually late on my first day of my first teaching job. I overslept. I will never forget that.”

Terry said she remembered her first years as a fifth grade teacher and facing several challenges with limited supplies and materials.

“I struggled with that,” she said. “There were times that first year that I did question my career choice, so I frequently tell beginning teachers that if they’re feeling overwhelmed and they’re questioning the path they chose, that’s normal. The first teaching experience can be so intense – there’s just nothing that can prepare you for the demands of teaching and how hard it is. You find yourself in this classroom with these children and it’s way bigger than you ever expected. I tell them that it is hard. I don’t know that the public sometimes understands just how hard teaching can be.”

It was shortly afterward that Terry’s path led her to Richmond County Schools where she worked at Fairview Heights for 10 years before moving to Rohanen Primary for three more.

“I went to the high school in 2008,” Terry said, “and in 2011, I came here.”

As a principal at Monroe Avenue, Terry was prepared to step into a new pair of shoes, but it would be several months before she learned just how much her life would change.

“It seems like my principalship began at one of the most eventful times in my life,” she said.

It wasn’t long before she would meet one of those events face-to-face—in the form of two small packages, Sam and Alli.

“Being a mother,” she said, “even though it hasn’t really changed my career, has changed my perspective. I’ve always loved kids and cared about them—and I hope that the people I’ve worked with, the children I’ve taught, would think that I was good to their kids. But I know now that when I think of the kids we’re with, I cannot ever think of them without thinking of my own. They’ve changed me no doubt for the best. Being Sam and Alli’s mom has been the thing that’s changed my life the most.”

A quick glance in the classrooms of Monroe Avenue will confirm that Terry continues to be just as compassionate for her teachers and students as she is for her own children. She credits administrators like Earl Yates and Corey Satterfield for helping her to become the leader she is today as the 2014 Richmond County Schools Principal of the Year.

Terry has continued her pursuit of education by obtaining a second degree in Administration as well as a six-year degree from East Carolina University. She currently lives in Hamlet with her husband, Marc, and her 18-month-old twins.

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