An often-honored West Wilkes High School teacher has achieved his highest level of recognition yet.
Dr. James A. “Jim” Brooks of North Wilkesboro was sitting with the student body and fellow teachers in the West Wilkes gym Thursday afternoon when his selection for induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame was announced.
Brooks, 48, was cheered as he made his way down from the bleachers to share the podium with N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. June Atkinson and others. Brooks knew he was a finalist for the honor but didn’t know the real purpose for the assembly until he realized a hall of fame representative was there.
“This is quite an honor and I accept it humbly,” said the surprised 12th-grade English and photojournalism teacher. “But no recognition I receive ends with me. It all comes back to the school.”
Brooks said it also all began for him at West Wilkes, referring to how he was influenced by teachers and administration at the school and has had the freedom to teach new courses, try new things and experiment with new technology.
“It all gets back to the students,” said Brooks, adding that he has taught several hundred students or possibly as many as 1,000 in a 27-year career that has been entirely at West Wilkes High.
Addressing West High’s students, he said, “I can only hope that you will find a profession that will be as rewarding as this has been for me.” As such, he said, “it’s really not like work.”
Brooks told a story that he said helps explain why he teaches and where he draws strength.
He said he was driving back and forth between his home in Wilkes and graduate school classes at Appalachian State University and teaching at West Wilkes in the 1990s when he had a flat tire late one night on Boone Trail after leaving Boone.
An old man appeared out of the darkness and offered his assistance with changing the flat tire, which Brooks accepted.
Brooks said he nervously talked about his work as a teacher at West Wilkes as they changed the tire and then offered to pay the man when the job was done. The old man declined any payment and asked him to instead “teach good things” as he walked away.
“Teach good things,” repeated Brooks. “I have carried that message with me all these years. On days when it’s hard I think about that and draw strength.”
In an interview, Brooks said he interpreted “teach good things” as a challenge to make what he teaches relevant for students because lack of relevance in the classroom often is a barrier for student success.
As an English teacher, he added, striving for relevance affords him opportunities to raise classroom discussions about character and values while focusing on literary subjects and other topics.
West Wilkes Principal Wayne Shepherd said students say Brooks is extremely challenging, but also fun and fair. “While realizing that learning should be about exploration and adventure, Dr. Brooks masterfully looks for ways to allow his students to become the teacher,” said Shepherd.
Dr. Steve Laws, who retired this past December while serving as Wilkes school superintendent, said Brooks represents all that one would want in a teacher.
“He challenges his students to be the very best they can be. He leads his peers in trying new ways to teach. He willingly gives of himself to advise decision-makers on important issues affecting education. Simply stated, students always come first for Jim,” said Laws.
Brooks, an Ashe County native, arrived at West Wilkes in 1985 after earning a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian. He earned a master’s degree in 1997 and a doctor of education in 2011, both from Appalachian. He received National Board Certification in 1998 and renewed in 2009.
Brooks was among 19 teachers nationwide named a “High School Teacher of Excellence” by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2011.
He also has been named an “Outstanding North Carolina English Teacher,” earned the National Council of Teachers of English Media Literacy Award for Media Literacy, the National Educators Association Award for Teaching Excellence and the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce Education Hero Award.
He is a prior “Teacher of the Year” for West Wilkes High School, Wilkes County and Northwest North Carolina Teacher.
Brooks said that as a regional teacher of the year, he spent 1½ years away from West Wilkes High visiting other schools across the state and recruiting teachers. He said the opportunity to be at many other schools made him realize better that he wanted to remain at West Wilkes.
Brooks also is choir director at Wilkesboro United Methodist Church and is a member of the Wilkes Chamber Singers. Most of the two dozen or so visitors at West Wilkes for the assembly were relatives and Wilkesboro United Methodist members.
Also attending the event Thursday were Dr. Marty Hemric, current Wilkes school superintendent; other Wilkes school administration officials; and Wilkes Board of Education members.
Brooks is the second National Teacher Hall of Fame inductee from North Carolina.
The National Teachers Hall of Fame was founded in Emporia, Kan., in 1989 to honor elementary and secondary teachers and the teaching profession through a recognition program and museum. Nominees must be certified public or non-public schoolteachers, active or retired, with at least 20 years of experience in teaching grades preK-12.
There are five inductees each year. Brooks and this year’s four other inductees will be honored in Washington, D.C., on May 8 during a reception at the headquarters of the National Education Association.
They will be in Emporia from June 13 through 15 for a series of recognition events, including meeting students attending the Future Teacher Academy, a roundtable discussion and community events all capped by a recognition banquet and induction ceremony.
The Class of 2012 was chosen by a national selection committee that met Feb. 16.
“The selection committee is comprised of representatives from national educational organizations and NTHF membership,” said Carol Strickland, chairman of the NTHF selection committee.
“The committee evaluates the nominees on responses to questions regarding their professional profile, their teaching both inside and outside the classroom, educational issues and accountability.”
The committee, consisting of representatives of educational organizations, NTHF membership and corporate America, considers nominations from a pool of certified public or non-public teachers, active or retired with at least 20 years of full-time experience teaching in grades PreK-12.
Since the first inaugural induction ceremonies in 1992, 100 educators from 36 states and the District of Columbia have been inducted.
The 2012 induction is sponsored by Pearson Education, Herff Jones and the National Education Association Foundation.
Each year, hall of fame inductees receive a gold Signet ring and lapel pin from Herff Jones Inc., $1,000 in materials for their school district from Pearson Education, a permanent display in the National Teachers Hall of Fame and a cast bronze belltower award.
The Hall of Fame has been endorsed by practically every national education organization and commended by President Bill Clinton in a 1993 White House Rose Garden ceremony.
As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Hall of Fame seeks private, financial support and encourages organizations and individuals to provide financial support.