If you ask Tim Walker what inspired him to become a teacher, he will probably tell you about his younger brother.
“A lot of people thought he wouldn’t graduate high school,” Walker says. “He has a learning disability, and with our parents being divorced and my dad working a lot, I usually helped him after school.”
The day of his brother’s graduation was a very special one. After the ceremony, Walker ran to hug his brother with tears in his eyes. “We were both crying,” he recalls. “He thanked me for all the help I had given him through the years.”
It was at that moment Walker knew he wanted to become a teacher.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Carolina in 2017, followed by a Master of Arts in Teaching at the UNC School of Education in 2018, Walker has accomplished that goal. He now teaches social studies at Carrboro High School, a job he finds immensely rewarding.
“For a lot of individuals, school is really difficult. Graduating from high school is such an important moment in a young person’s life,” he says. “Being able to be a part of that moment, to share in the pride of their accomplishments — that’s a special feeling.”
When Walker was a junior in high school, he knew he wanted to apply to UNC-Chapel Hill.
“UNC had one of the top archeology programs in the U.S. for what I wanted to focus on,” he says.
But his dream to study anthropology at Carolina included some hurdles. His grades were not quite high enough, and he had some financial limitations. Walker attended Carteret Community College, where he enrolled in the C-STEP program, then transferred to Carolina at the beginning of his junior year.
“It was the perfect pathway for me to get to UNC,” he says.
At Carolina, Walker easily found friends and support through the transfer student community. He lived in the Transfer United community at Rams Village and took advantage of the resources and support provided by the C-STEP program.
“That community really helped me succeed at Carolina,” he says.
During his senior year, Walker became a resident advisor, where he again found a strong community. Through conversations with other RAs, Walker learned about the Master of Arts in Teaching at the School of Education. He applied and was accepted, and after completing his bachelor’s degree, he went straight into the one-year program.
“I’m still in touch with everyone from that program. We talk all the time,” he says. “The connections and knowledge we gained made us better teachers and better prepared us to enter into this very stressful field.”
As part of the program, Walker had the opportunity to participate in a month-long exchange in Germany. While there, he wrote a thesis paper comparing student-teacher relationships in U.S. schools with those of schools in Germany.
In Germany, Walker observed the importance of creating strong bonds between students and teachers. When students feel comfortable approaching their teachers with issues, he says, they tend to engage and enjoy their time at school more.
Since then, Walker has worked hard to prioritize building relationships with his students.
“I’m always looking for ways to make students feel comfortable and help them recognize our classroom is a safe space no matter what level they’re at,” he says.
Walker believes his thesis work gave him a sense of empathy and perspective for working with vulnerable students.
“When you’ve got a kid who is going off on you or having behavioral issues, you have to step back and ask what is causing this behavior,” Walker says. “Instead of jumping to the conclusion that, ‘This is a bad kid,’ you have to ask, ‘What is happening in this student’s life that is causing these behaviors to occur?’”
The Master of Arts in Teaching program also included a fieldwork component during which Walker spent two days a week teaching at Carrboro High School, where he is grateful to work full-time.
“To me, it feels like a family,” he says. “I think a lot of students would say that as well. As a school community, we discuss challenging systemic issues and constantly work on improving ourselves to the benefit of all students and staff members.”
That strong sense of community reflects many of Walker’s experiences at Carolina.
“It’s something I had at Carolina too,” he says. “I love that the culture at Carrboro High School matches what I had at UNC.”