By Richard Taylor
Ocracoke School’s English as a Second Language (ESL) educator, Flavia Burton, is the school’s 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.
Teaching students who have non-American backgrounds comes easy to Burton, who is a world traveler and comes from a family that embraced other cultures.
Her parents lived in India for several years in the 1950s, and Burton has studied in Florida and Europe, taught in Texas and in private international schools in Brazil, Barcelona and France.
“My parents made the world a bigger place,” which encouraged her own travel. “This job fits my desire to have the world a bigger place,” she said about her ESL duties, which she has done for the last seven years.
Hailing from Tennessee, Burton trained to be a teacher.
“Teaching is in my blood,” she said.
As the ESL teacher, she helps students navigate between academic language of school and “the language of social needs.”
ESL teachers don’t need to be fluent in the languages of their students. Her own special training helps her teach her students in grades K to 12 at Ocracoke School.
“We have a majority of Spanish speakers here, but it doesn’t really matter what language they come from,” she explained. “When you have a brand-new language learner, you have to start with the basic phonetic parts and sounds of the English language, because their alphabet’s going to be totally different.”
Besides the basics of English, Burton supports her colleagues by teaching the languages of math, science and social studies to her students, which are English Language Learners.
“I think there are a couple of students I can easily say that without my help, wouldn’t have graduated. So that feels like a success,” she reflected.
One of her success stories this year was third-grader “Goldie,” who came to Ocracoke last summer from Lithuania, speaking only Russian.
Even though she speaks no Russian herself, Flavia said it wasn’t difficult to teach Goldie. “It worked out just fine,” she said.
After teaching in Europe for seven years, when Burton sought a teaching job closer to her Tennessee family, some friends suggested North Carolina.
“When you apply to teach in North Carolina, you can send your resume to 20 counties, so I just hit all the counties on the coast,” she said.
She soon got a phone call from then principal, George Ortman.
“I had never been to Ocracoke in my life,” she said. “I told him I needed to see if it was a fit. So, I flew into Norfolk.”
But Hurricane Alex had just hit, and the island had been evacuated.
“So, Mr. Ortman came and got me,” she said.
That was 17 years ago in 2004.
Burton has taught second, third and fourth grades, and then got her ESL certification. She also earned her National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification, which she just renewed this year.
“Flavia’s a great advocate for her students and has such a great relationship with their families,”
said Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole. “She’s such a help to me and to the school and we’re very proud of her. She’s the best.”
Hyde County Superintendent of Schools Steve Basnight said Burton leads with her heart.
“Her teaching always goes well beyond her classroom,” he said. “With Flavia, establishing relationships is foundational. Hyde County is blessed to have professional educators with her talent. She is so deserving of this recognition.”
To feed her restless nature, Burton several years ago took up the creation of fused glass art and recently got a new kiln to replace the one lost in Dorian.
With this art, “I cut pieces from a variety of colors, make a design, and then I cook them,” she explained. Her glass work varies from small fish to bigger platters and window hangings. She gifts some pieces locally and sells others.
Burton appreciates the professional recognition of her colleagues.
“I feel honored to be chosen Teacher of the Year from such an amazing group of educators,” she said.
Burton vied for Hyde County Teacher of the Year against Callie Luker, Exceptional Children Teacher at Mattamuskeet Elementary, and Patricia Scripture, 6-12 Exceptional Children Teacher at Mattamuskeet Early College High School.
“It is my tremendous honor and privilege to announce Hyde County School’s District Teacher of the Year is Mattamuskeet Elementary School’s Mrs. Callie Luker,” Basnight posted on the district’s Facebook page Friday.
Ocracoke fifth-grade teacher Jeanie Owen, the 2018-2019 Ocracoke, Hyde County and Northeast Region Teacher of the Year, completes her regional Teacher of the Year duties this summer.