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Portrait of Brandy VarnerCongratulations to Department of English and Comparative Literature alumnus Brandy Varner, who was just awarded Teacher of the Year at Chatham Grove Elementary School! Varner graduated from UNC’s English and Comparative program in 2010. Varner has been teaching for 11 years and joined Chatham Grove upon the school’s opening last year.

Read the interview below to learn about Varner’s experience teaching elementary school as an ECL alum.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

“I consider my primary goal to be helping children grow into active, compassionate members of society so I try to plan all of my lessons through that lens. I definitely use my Comp-Lit skills on a daily basis as well and I think they are a large part of what makes me an effective teacher. Spending 4 years analyzing text and getting to know authors and the societies they lived in through their words made me a more empathetic person and critical thinker. I know that there are questions to be asked about every subject and multiple perspectives to interpret the world from and I work hard to pass that on to my students. “

What does this award mean to you?

“This award was a surprise and an honor for me. I know that I work hard but I also know the hard work of my colleagues. So much of what I know comes back to being able to openly ask questions, share ideas, and learn from them. I couldn’t believe they considered me a peer to be honored rather than ‘that lady that’s always bothering us with things.’ Now, it’s just time to appreciate their support and their respect and work hard to live up to that honor.”

Do you have any advice for current ECL students considering teaching?

 “It is a very hard job (you’ve probably seen all the headlines out there) and you most definitely need to love it but the best decision I ever made was deciding to teach. Your Comp-Lit skills are exactly what students need in this world. Take a wide variety of classes and expose yourself to literature from as many perspectives as possible so you bring all of that with you into the classroom.

I would also recommend keeping your mind open about what age group you want to teach. Personally, I thought I wanted to teach AP English and nothing else while I was still getting my degree. But, falling into elementary completely by chance, I fell in love with it.”

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