Over 30 years ago, Ann Catchings set out to make a difference in her community. She wanted to make an impact through teaching at Newton-Covover Middle School in the same way her teachers motivated her when she went to school there.
Last week, as she retired from teaching, Catchings knew she’d achieved her goal as dozens of cars drove by the middle school. The vehicles were filled with coworkers, former students and parents all celebrating her and thanking her for her work.
Catchings sat in front of the middle school as cars decorated in her honor honked horns and friends leaned out the windows holding signs, waving and thanking her. The celebration left Catchings speechless, she said.
“That was such a humbling experience and just made me feel really proud that even though you want to feel you have done a good job — it was an affirmation that I did one and I chose the right career,” Catchings said. “I did what I really wanted to do, which is to help the community and be a part of the community.”
Catchings grew up in Conover and graduated from Newton-Conover High School in 1983. She set off to get her college degree from Appalachian State University knowing she’d return.
“I really just wanted to come back to the community that I left and provide some of the same opportunities that I had growing up,” Catchings said. “I just wanted to come back and share some of the experiences that I received going through the (school) system.”
In 1989, Catchings did her student teaching at Newton-Conover Middle School. She never left. Catchings eventually earned her master’s degree in English, the subject she taught for the majority of her 30 years.
As a sixth-grade teacher, Catchings watched and guided students as they grew into themselves. Her favorite part of the teaching was taking stock at the end of the year and recalling how her students progressed, she said.
“At the end of the year we can sit back and reflect on the good and the bad and see how much they’ve grown, not just physically but emotionally,” she said. “They come to you one child and leave another.”
In her effort to help her students grow and lead successful lives, Catchings started every class by letting her students talk about whatever was on their minds.
“Everyone makes a big deal about homework but I would always start by asking if there is anything they need and just letting them talk,” Catchings said. “We would always have a little rap session or talk time, so they can talk about what’s on their heart.”
Billy Cannon, principal of Newton-Conover Middle School, worked with Catchings for nine years. Catchings helped him become a good teacher and showed him how to care for students, he said.
“She has a huge heart for children,” Cannon said. “She consistently goes above and beyond to do what she can to help our young people grow and reach their potential. She is a quiet leader who has had a tremendous impact on our school and community. When Ann speaks, people listen.”
In her years of teaching, Catchings followed advice often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world,” Catchings said.
Even though she’ll no longer be a teacher, Catchings is still about making a better world. She said she plans to do volunteer work and be a good neighbor.
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