Army 1st Sgt. Jeffery Matthews of Hillside High School, holds a plaque after being selected as the Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

Army 1st Sgt. Jeffery Matthews of Hillside High School, holds a plaque after being selected as the Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year. (Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) — Jeffery Matthews didn’t apply himself in school.

When his grades slipped, his father wanted to teach him a lesson and would not allow him to attend summer school. He had to repeat 11th grade.

On Thursday, Matthews, a JROTC instructor at Hillside High School, was named 2023-24 Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

“It’s a passion,” said the retired Army veteran from Angier who is in his seventh year of teaching at the school.

“You’ve got to have a passion for it; 99 percent of the teachers have a passion for this work,” he said in a news release. “We are counselors, mentors, coaches, guiding lights.”

‘Kids in the middle’

Mathews told the audience at The Cotton Room on Thursday night that he tries to model the philosophy that one must overcome their shortcomings and achieve, even when others don’t see your potential — including yourself.

“I never had an advocate in school,” he said. “I wasn’t a bad student, but I wasn’t a great student. But what about the kids in the middle? We kind of always forget about the kids in the middle.”

His parents were great motivators, Matthews said. He also speaks highly of his high school principal, “Mr. Kidd,” who when he repeated 11th grade, never made him feel any different.

“He always pushed me and got me more involved in academics and athletics to keep my mind off of what was going on, he said.

Today, Matthews said the landscape is changing, with many things competing for young people’s attention.

“So how do we engage and make everyone feel good enough to know they have potential?: he asked. “You have to know the kids in some aspect. That’s what builds classroom culture. You have to take the me out of the picture.”

In the news release Matthews told of one rebellious student whose poor decisions could have cost him his life.

The student was on the brink of expulsion, and Matthews convinced him to give JROTC a try. He did but dropped out. He eventually returned, brought his grades up, and is now serving in the military and raising children with his wife.

“Teaching is a great profession. You can show kids you can have success in adversity,” he said. “We share a lot of stories in JROTC as military instructors. We use our life skills and experience to enlighten kids to study and think critically.”

Toyota Camry, Lenovo laptop

A native of Louisiana, Matthews says he loves learning, citing history as his favorite subject because he loves dates and timelines, according to the news release. He is working on his master’s degree in business administration.

He received a 2024 Toyota Camry from Marc Jacobson Toyota, a Lenovo laptop computer, a $1,000 award, gift certificates for coffee, a massage, tickets to a Durham Bulls game, restaurants, movie and live shows, an overnight hotel stay, and an engraved keychain.

Teacher of the Year finalists Morandi Hurst of Lakewood Montessori Middle School and Yaritza Prendergast of Neal Middle School each received a framed certificate and a $500 award.

©2024 Raleigh News & Observer.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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