Clearview TOTY Nekia Leonard knew she was destined to teach

Published 9:35 am Friday, January 5, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LaGrange Daily News is doing a Q&A with all of the teachers of the year in the Troup County School System. Today we are writing about Nekita Leonard, a fifth-grade ELA/Reading teacher at Clearview Elementary School. We asked her 20 questions, and we shortened this interview to some of our favorite responses.

Nekita Leonard currently works as a fifth-grade English Language Arts and Reading Teacher at Clearview Elementary School but has also taught third-grade Math and fourth-grade. She started at Clearview in 2018 and has worked in education for 17 years, six of which with TCSS.

Leonard has also worked with the local HeadStart program (Community Action for Improvement) for eleven years, as a substitute teacher with TCSS and with the Pathways Center.

Nekita is married to Darren Leonard Sr. and has four children, DeAngelo, Brittany, Tiffany and Darren Jr. — all graduates of LaGrange High School. She also has a two-year-old grandson, Zachariah.

Leonard previously helped coach a basketball team at CVES, which she said helped her relive her days playing basketball at Heard County High School.  She is also a member of Clark Atlanta TRIO and Empowerment Wednesday, a local mentorship program headed up by Jerome Cofield.

Q: What inspired you to become an educator? (Or who?)

A: “I think that I knew in the fourth grade that my calling was to be a teacher. I have had a plethora of wonderful teachers throughout my school years. There are two teachers that come to mind and were inspirations to me. My fourth-grade elementary school teacher Mrs. Thomas and my high school Economics teacher Ms. Barber. Their drive and passion for knowledge along with gentle, caring personalities and teaching styles were influential. I aspired to become a teacher and to evoke a love for learning for my students just like they did for me.”

Q: What are your career aspirations?

A: “My career aspirations are to continue teaching elementary school, possibly pursuing an Education Specialist Degree.”

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what career field would you be in?

A: “I have been asked this question quite frequently by my students. The career field that I would have pursued instead of teaching is Nursing Obstetrics. The idea of assisting and bringing life into the world is simply a gift. I have been privileged to attend the birth of a few of my relatives and it was such a joyous occasion. The field of teaching and nursing are different, yet similar in terms of having a passion for people, patience and dedication.”

Q: What hidden talent do you have that might surprise your students and our readers?

A: “The hidden talent that I have is singing. Growing up, I was a member of a gospel group singing alongside my family members. We traveled to various churches singing at programs. I love all genres of music.”

Q:  If your teaching style had a theme song, what would it be?

A: “The theme song for my teaching style is Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. I hope that my students will continue to strive for more. We set individual and class goals quite frequently. Occasionally, we may not achieve these set goals. We look for the positive in the situation and celebrate those accomplishments. I want them to know that they can and should continue to work towards achieving their goals and to never give up.”

Q: What’s the most creative/unique project one of your classes has worked on?

A: “The most creative project that we have worked on was a Social Studies project. My 5th grade class was learning about The Great Depression and the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The students used a simulation and invested in the stock market. The teams purchased stocks and invested $1,000. They learned about profit and loss and determined if they should buy, sell or keep their current stock shares after a few days of trading. After the stock exchange closed on “Black Thursday,” Oct. 24, 1929, the team with the most profit was considered to be the winner.”

Q: If you could invite any historical figure to speak to your class, who would you choose and why?

A: “The historical figure that I would invite to speak to my class would be Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley was from Africa. She was enslaved and was eventually taught to read and write. She embodies tenacity, strength, willpower, and perseverance. She was able to publish her first poem at the age of fourteen. Wheatley was the first American slave and third colonial woman to have published work.”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part about your job?

A: “The most rewarding part of my job is when I am able to make connections with the students as they are engaged in the instruction. This is fostered by the formation of positive student relationships. Another reward is when students are receptive to constructive correction when conferring with them. Also, having students that can accept redirection and use strategies to get back on task is rewarding.”

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

A: “A challenging part of my job is working to reach all students, encourage them, and help them to become dreamers every day. Some of my students have dealt with trauma. These situations may make students lack a desire to engage, concentrate, and be present in the learning environment. Children do not often express their discomfort. They may act out and express their pain with aggressive behavior. Our students are able to spot their feelings upon arrival. This helps me to gauge their emotions at the beginning of the day. I then engage in one-on-one conversations with them. All are not open to sharing exactly why they have those feelings. I continue to check on them throughout the day monitoring their behavior. We Mirror Talk our ‘I Can’ statements as part of our learning target. I also know that there is a need to speak to them, find strategies to deal with those emotions, and encourage them to speak positive affirmations over their lives.”

Q: What’s the most unusual excuse a student has given you for not completing their homework?

A: “The most unusual excuse a student has given for not completing their homework is that their dog ate it. We had not heard anyone use this excuse before. I know that many think that this is a common excuse. However, for my students, it is not. Many students say that their younger sibling wrote on it, they left it at home, or that they simply did not complete it.

Q: What did it mean to you to be named your school’s teacher of the year?

A: “Being named teacher of the year for Clearview Elementary was an honor. I greatly appreciate being chosen by my colleagues. I experienced a whirlwind of emotions. I was shocked and happy. I try every day to do what is required of me and to give it my best. It is definitely a privilege to know that my deeds do not go unnoticed.”

Q: On a weekend or a summer day when school is out, what are your favorite activities?

A: “My favorite activities to do on weekends and in the summer are to travel and spend time with my family. I have traveled to and through numerous states attending my nephew’s college basketball and football games. Taking family trips is also a favorite activity to do.”

Q:  As your students transition to the next grade or graduate in May, what is one key takeaway you hope they carry forward from their time in your class?

A: “I hope that the one takeaway my students carry forward is the importance of self-respect and showing gratitude/appreciation for and towards others. I want them to know that they are loved and I genuinely care about them. I love seeing my former students progress and grow up. Occasionally, I receive emails from former students, messages from their parents and I receive high school graduation invitations. A highlight for me was being asked to stand alongside a former student and his family for his college intent signing day.”