FRANKLINVILLE — Katie Husband has been working nearly her entire life — since kindergarten anyway — on the skills that earned a balloon, a big cookie and a plaque as the Randolph County School System’s 2021-22 Teacher of the Year.
Husband, 30, is in her seventh year as a teacher and in her third year at Franklinville Elementary School, where she teaches kindergarten.
When she was a kindergartner herself, Katie set up a classroom in her bedroom and recruited her younger brother as a student. She put him in a dress, tied his hair in pigtails and perched him in an old wooden school desk her mother had inherited from a relative.
Her parents bought a small white board for her to use. Her grandmother dumpster-dived to retrieve discarded school workbooks for Katie’s classroom.
This arrangement continued for years, until little brother, two years her junior, refused to play school anymore. Katie was in the third or fourth grade by then.
Her own kindergarten teacher inspired Katie’s home school: She wanted to be like Miss O’Briant.
“She always had this nurturing and caring sense about her,” Husband said in an interview last week, “and always made me feel like I could be important and could rule the world.”
These days, Husband’s daughter Kensley, who is 7, oversees a home classroom in which her sister, Hadley, 5, is the pupil. When she grows up, Kensley says, she wants to be a teacher.
Katie loved school and dreamed of being a teacher until she was in the 9th or 10t grade, when her primary interest shifted from studies to the social scene. After high school, she set aside her one-time dream and signed up to study accounting at Randolph Community College (RCC). “My dad said I was never going to make any money being a teacher,” she said.
A career in banking was short-lived, just two years from teller to customer service rep to loan officer. She was earning what she calls “decent” money — $20,000 more annually than she makes today — but there was a problem.
“I hated my job,” she said. “I would cry when I had to go to work.”
The solution: Return to school and to her first love.
While earning a teaching degree via The University Center of Randolph County (a collaborative effort between RCC and Pfeiffer University), Husband worked full-time as a teaching assistant in the Randolph County Schools.
She also became a new mom in those years and presented her very last assignment while standing in front of the class and rocking her daughter’s baby carriage with a foot.
Her first year in the classroom, she taught kindergarten in Chatham County. Asked about her first-ever day as a full-fledged teacher, her eyes lit up, and, though she was wearing a face covering in compliance with COVID-19 protocol, it was evident that she was grinning from ear to ear.
On that first morning, she recalled, before the students arrived, she closed the door and whispered to herself, “Well, this is it.” And she has never looked back. “There is not one day since I started in education that I have ever not wanted to come to work.”
In August 2016, a week before school started, Husband applied for a last-minute opening at Level Cross Elementary School and was hired to return to her home county.
So, 37 weeks pregnant with her second daughter, she packed books and posters and a host of brightly colored classroom paraphernalia and moved it from Chatham to Randolph.
At one time, Husband envisioned herself teaching older elementary students, third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. They are somewhat independent, she explained, while younger children often need guidance on many fronts, from how to unzip a bookbag and walk in an orderly line in the hall to how to go to the bathroom by themselves.
It did not take her long to become comfortable with kindergartners.
“I realized how much impact you can have on them at such a young age,” she said. “You get the opportunity to kind of lay the foundation for them in school and create their love of learning.
“The biggest thing is to build a relationship from the minute they walk through the door. I’m here through the good times and the bad times. It’s also important to build relationships with parents. These parents know they can come to me with anything.”
At Level Cross Elementary, Husband established what was called a Blessing Box, where people could donate food and basic household items, such as hygiene products. Those who needed something could get it without having to ask.
Husband’s long-term plan is to become a school administrator, so she is in school yet again. But each new school year, she revels in meeting new students and new families and relishes the opportunity to help mold a roomful of children, one on one.
Teachers teach, but they are also nurses, counselors, social workers … and more. Husband says that students call her “mama” many times during a school year.
“You do become a little family, but that’s what you want.”
She is not sure when she will be ready to leave the classroom — and her “little family” — behind.
“Just right now,” she said, “the idea of it makes me want to cry. This is my happy place.”