A Teachers’ Teacher

Appalachian professor Tracy Wilson Smith receives UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching

Teachers matter to Dr. Tracy Wilson Smith, professor in the Reich College of Education (RCOE) at Appalachian State University. Over the course of her more than 20 years as an educator, she has trained hundreds of classroom teachers.

Smith, who is assistant chair in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, joined the Appalachian faculty in 2000 and has taught 23 different courses for undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students on the main campus and at the university’s satellite campuses.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Smith was recently recognized by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors as among the most outstanding faculty, and is one of 17 recipients to receive its 2017 Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

“Tracy’s contributions to our students – and education in general – are so far reaching,” Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said. “The teachers she mentors, instructs and encourages go on to do the same in classrooms across our state and country. She is truly the embodiment of what the Dougherty brothers envisioned when they established our institution more than 100 years ago.”

Making a difference in the lives of others

The prestigious award includes a commemorative bronze medallion and a $12,500 cash prize. But to Smith, the real payoff is her connection with the teachers she has prepared and the impact they make on their students, in turn.

“The greatest source of my own inspiration is my students,” she wrote. “...most of us chose to become teachers because we want to make a difference in the world, in the lives of others. What will astonish you and catch you completely off guard at times is what a deep, profound difference your students will make in your life. I now have more than two decades-worth of precious memories and moments with students who have touched and changed my life.”

In the words of her college dean, Dr. Melba Spooner, “Tracy is the consummate faculty – she listens, she builds, she mentors and she contributes in so many tangible and intangible ways.”

To help others, Smith expressed, “I feel I must keep my foot firmly planted in the life of a teacher – but I also must learn how to support other teachers and academic leaders by reading, implementing and conducting research about faculty development. (Internationally recognized cultural theorist, creative writer and independent scholar Gloria) Anzaldúa calls the ability to live life on the border ‘la facultad, a capacity to experience richer meaning in one’s homeland – and to enrich the lives of those across the border.’ In my own journey, I am here, on the borderland, a teacher and a mentor to teachers.”

Smith’s department chair Dr. Susan A. Colby concurred. “Tracy is a truly outstanding teacher who consistently designs courses and experiences that foster deep learning, focus on the needs of individuals and exemplify best practice. For decades, her students have commented on the quality of her teaching and have identified her expertise, dedication to each student, and relevant and rigorous instruction as hallmarks of her practice.”

One student said, “Dr. Smith is the educator I strive to emulate. She has changed my life, not only because she gave me the skills necessary to deliver high quality instruction, but also, and more importantly, because she gave me the confidence to believe I could be a great teacher and that I, too, could make a difference in my students’ lives.”

‘Be their hope’

Smith’s philosophy of teaching centers on a big-picture view of education and she often references this quote from "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Toward that expedition, Smith implements ideas and theories about teaching and learning in a variety of ways. She has used strategies such as literature circles, Paideia seminars, World Café conversations, reflective writing, philosophy journaling, problem-based learning, writing for authentic purposes and audiences, and clinical application projects to help her students analyze texts and ideas independently and collectively. She uses mediated activities to facilitate discussions about students’ experiences, including their understandings of young adolescent culture, public education policy, core curriculum, and the culture of middle schools and the communities they serve. She employs famous quotations, poetry and her own ABCs for being an effective educator, all the while encouraging them “to be advocates, benefactors, altruists, academics and activists. You are co-authors of your students’ futures. Be their hope.”

Smith is the recipient of numerous teaching awards: a two-time winner of the RCOE Outstanding Teaching Award (2005, 2015); Appalachian State University Student Government Association Outstanding Faculty Award (2005); RCOE Outstanding Mentor Award (2014); and RCOE Community of Practice Award (2016). She was selected as a participant in the inaugural cohort of the Appalachian Academic Leadership Development Program in 2015 and she currently serves as RCOE Faculty Fellow, where she facilitates professional learning opportunities for faculty and staff.

In addition, Smith has facilitated teaching-focused faculty development initiatives such as Appalachian’s Scholarly Teaching Academy and Course (Re)Design Institute. More than 70 courses have been designed as a result of the Course (Re)Design Institute, which focuses on developing courses for significant and long-lasting student learning. One participant said, “Her creativity, innovation and encouragement have been a constant source of inspiration for the rest of us.”

The professional development opportunities Smith facilitates for colleagues demonstrate “her commitment to teaching excellence – which is unparalleled,” Colby said. “Her many contributions in support of Appalachian’s teaching mission are commendable and significant.”

Smith attended West Caldwell High School in Lenoir and earned the Coffey Foundation Scholarship, which funded her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She went on to earn the Master of Arts in Curriculum Specialist at Appalachian, and the Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Teaching at UNC Greensboro.

Smith lives in Boone with her husband, Tommy, and their daughters: Ellary, 10, and Cora, 9. Their family sings and plays music together as Smithfolk. Smith is active at Boone United Methodist Church, where she sings and serves in various ways. Senior Pastor David Hockett said, “Dr. Smith is often a key leader for Sunday morning events at Boone UMC where her presence provides yet another unique and important connection between ASU and the larger community.”

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