CMS chooses Villa Heights educator as 2022 teacher of the year

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Villa Heights Elementary School teacher Imee Idjao has been named CMS’s 2022 Teacher of the Year. Here, she teaches the students in her class.

The walls of Imee Idjao’s classroom at Villa Heights Elementary School are full of colorful pictures and figures – a sort of wonderland for third graders.

This reflects a lesson that Idjao makes sure his students learn: to embrace diversity. And at the door, they can leave a sense of entitlement.

“If they come and complain about the trip to school or the breakfast they had or this or that, I will show them videos from the Philippines,” Idjao said. “I will tell them that some students there have to walk miles and miles to get to school. Or if they don’t like an eraser and want to throw it away, you know what some students in remote areas of the Philippines have to use as erasers? The bottom of their rubber slippers.

Idjao, who arrived in the United States in 2010 from the Philippines, is in her first year of teaching at Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. She was named CMS Teacher of the Year 2022 last week. Dotha Howell, a teaching assistant at Reid Park Academy, was named the 2022 CMS Teaching Assistant of the Year at the same ceremony.

“Since the beginning of the school year, Ms. Idjao has focused on the growth of every student in her class,” said Joyce Fullington, Principal of Villa Heights Elementary. “In Ms. Idjao’s class, it is easy to see her passion for teaching and learning. That’s why she is an excellent teacher.

It’s the “little pleasures”

Idjao, 41, is married and the father of two children. The family loves the outdoors, especially walks and zip-lining. Idjao grew up in the Philippines and chose teaching because she saw how much her sisters enjoyed the profession.

She has three older sisters who are teachers in the Philippines, one of whom is already a principal. Idjao is the youngest of six children.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Philippine Normal University in Manila and master’s degrees from Philippine Normal and Central Luzon State University in the Philippines before landing a teaching position in 2001 at Southville International School and Colleges in the Philippines. She taught at the school until August 2010, when she moved to North Carolina and taught at New Century International Elementary School in Fayetteville.

For Idjao, the best moments of teaching are the “little joys” of the classroom, such as a word of thanks from a student or a parent.

She looks to American poet and activist Maya Angelou as motivation.

“I learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Idjao told CMS officials when he was named Teacher of the Year finalist for the North East Learning Community. “I remember teachers who supported or encouraged me, teachers who challenged me and made me think. My fifth grade teacher saw something in me that I didn’t even know. And what does it give me? Trust.”

Idjao taught at the Sallie B. Howard School of Arts & Science at Wilson, a 2021 Blue Ribbon National School, from August 2015 to June before coming to CMS.

“I am grateful to all the people who walk by my side every day,” she said of her 2022 Teacher of the Year award. Idjao was one of six finalists. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had.”

Teachers are “agents of change”

Gratitude and courage are other lessons that Idjao guarantees her students will learn in her classroom.

“It’s okay to make mistakes,” she said. “You make mistakes and you move on and get stronger. I want my students to learn this.

Idjao says her goal is to “highlight students’ strengths and help them see special qualities they may not know they possess.” She says teachers are agents of change, and she is proud to be that agent of change.

“She seeks opportunities to expand her teaching practices, implementing her new learning in the classroom for the benefit of her students,” Fullington said.

As teachers locally and across the country leave the field — the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the normal pressures educators face in the classroom — Idjao said the profession is his heart and soul.

“Whenever the demands from teachers increase, I always come back to the ‘why’ – why did I choose to do this,” she said. “Because I love what I do. I love my classes. I love my students. It won’t always be easy, but that’s my joy.

Anna Maria Della Costa is a seasoned journalist with over 32 years of experience in news and sports coverage. She worked in Florida, Alabama, Rhode Island and Connecticut before moving to North Carolina. She grew up in Colorado, is a die-hard Denver Broncos fan and is a proud graduate of the University of Montana. When she’s not covering the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, she’s spending time with her 11-year-old son and shopping.

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