FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS: Wendy Leatherwood
This is one of an occasional series of articles that draws attention to ordinary Cherokee County residents and their extraordinary lives.
Murphy – Well-rounded high school media coordinator and English teacher Wendy Leatherwood not only finds joy in her job, but also through traveling and always trying new things.
“I was born and raised in Murphy. I went to Murphy Elementary School. At the time, our middle school was called junior high. It was in the round building, which now houses the media center and high school classes. Then I went to Murphy High School. I was in the marching band and concert band while attending junior high and high school. I was also a majorette,” she said.
“I’m the oldest of three children, and being the oldest you just had to take charge of what needed to be done. My brother would say I was bossy, but I would say I gained leadership skills.
“I married my high school sweetheart. We didn’t start dating until our senior year. We’ve now been married 27 years. Some would say I’m stubborn to a fault, but I always try to do the right thing regardless.
“I graduated from Western Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a focus in science. Initially I wanted to get my biology degree and work at the Center for Disease Control, because that was when we first started hearing about AIDS and I was very passionate about finding a cure. We didn’t have as many opportunities as young people do now. It was kind of scary, because you really didn’t know what to do and didn’t have anyone to guide you.
“I used to work for Nationwide Insurance, and I was planning on finishing my degree and become an insurance agent, but have a backup plan to be an elementary school teacher in case that didn’t work out. I realized at the time I could make more money as a teacher than I could working at the Insurance office. Plus I got the summers off.
“I started teaching fifth grade at Peachtree Elemen tary School. I was there for 11 years. I taught fifth grade one year, sixth one year and third for nine years.
“When my daughter was in fifth grade at Peachtree, she was going to go to Murphy the following year. We lived in Peachtree, so I didn’t know how I was going to get her to school and get back to work on time. An opening came up at Murphy Elementary, and it was third grade. I worked third grade at Murphy Elementary for six years, and four years teaching Title One Reading at Murphy.
“I was ready for a change again, and I was offered a position at the high school. There were kids at the high school who were struggling with reading, and I wanted to help as much as I can. I was very passionate about helping them. At the time, I was getting my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Coppin University. I guess you could say I’m a lifetime learner. I then got my National Board certification, which was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
“After that I still wasn’t satisfied, so I got my specialist’s degree in education. It’s in curriculum, instruction and administration. I am dying to get my doctorate, but my first daughter’s in college so I can’t right now.
“I don’t realize how long I have been doing my job because I love it so much, if that makes sense. I enjoy coming to work, and I like working with high school kids. It’s just a different dynamic, and I guess that’s just because I have taught elementary for so long.
“Ten years ago, our house was destroyed during a freak storm. Six to eight pine trees fell on our house. It was devastating. I remember my oldest daughter, Emma, was very upset with me that day because I wouldn’t let her ride the bus home. I knew there were bad storms coming in and wanted her to ride with me. If she had ridden the bus, the storm would have hit at the time she would’ve been inside.
“I am thankful no one was hurt. My friends at Murphy Elementary helped out the very next day. It was a very hard time, but we made it through.
“I love to travel anywhere, and I mean wherever. I have traveled a lot in the United States. Whenever we decide we are going somewhere, it’s always fun because it’s educational. I get to learn about where we’re going and what things we will do. We always try to pick a place we have never been before and experience different things.
“I love learning about different cultures and trying the different cuisines. To me, food is an experience. One of the most interesting things I have done is climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. You have to pay, but there’s such a beautiful view of Rome when you reach the top.
“My girls would say right now that their favorite place to go is Disney World. My oldest daughter will be 22 soon, while my youngest is 9, and if you asked them where they wanted to go as a family it’s always Disney. Our favorite part of Disney is Epcot and the Disney Showcase. The girls love it.
“My favorite place out of the country is Italy. I love the history.
“I love to read, I love the movies and I love the theatre. Plays are so fun. I am learning how to tap dance. I’m taking lessons. I like learning something new, so I like that.
“I used to decorate cakes. I took a class, and I used to decorate wedding cakes and birthday cakes. This was before I had children. I have a bucket list of places I have gone to and things I want to achieve. I mark them off as I go.
“I have high expectations for the students I teach, regardless of their ability. I have never taught the same lesson twice in all the years I have taught. I try to stay current with the trends in education. This helps me make sure the kids are receiving the education they need.
“Whenever online classes first started I wanted to be a part of that. Through the N.C. Department of Instruction, it was called CULT at the time; there were classes that you could take to show you how to teach online classes. I have taught online through the University of Phoenix for 11 years, and taught education part time at Tri-County Community College. I always like to find new things to do to keep my brain active.
“I would like to be known for always seeing something positive in every person I encounter. You have to be understanding and know
that circumstances shape people.
“My mother has shaped me into who I am today. She has always had high expectations and never let me whine about anything. She taught me to work hard and never give up. She always encouraged me to find my passion and do the right thing regardless of the consequences.
“I believe I had made my mark on people by always being kind to everyone, because every person needs to feel important, no matter who they are. No one should ever feel less than anyone else because there is potential in everyone. If you believe it, then you can achieve it,” Leatherwood said.
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