By Morgan Smith
All students at McKee Road Elementary School know teacher Doug Smith.
The Matthews resident is one of the first faces they see in the morning, always headlining the school’s morning news channel, encouraging kids to get up and get moving while leading exercises during the morning J.A.M.M., or Jumpstart And Move at McKee, session.
“I just love the J.A.M.M. sessions and the kids love them, too,” Jeremy Lundgren, the assistant principal at McKee Road, said. “He’s always energetic and he really just empowers the students to have fun, all while looking out for their best interest.”
Smith was recently named a finalist for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Teacher of the Year award. He was first nominated at the school level by his co-workers and after an interview process was named the East Zone finalist. Now he’s one of six district-wide finalists that could be named CMS Teacher of the Year in May.
Smith comes from a family of educators – his mom a teacher and his dad a recreational therapist. He always knew he wanted to be a teacher, but wasn’t sure in what field. After exploring different topics, physical education just seemed to click, he said.
“What’s funny is that I was outdoors a lot. I did recreational swimming, I was on the swim team in high school, but I wasn’t a star quarterback athlete or anything like that,” Smith said. “But I think we are seeing kids today be less active, and I just want to encourage them to get outside.”
Smith earned his education degree from Appalachian State University in 1997 and his master’s from West Virginia University in 1998. He started teaching in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, his home district, in 1998 at Oakdale Elementary and then at Park Road Elementary, now Park Road Montessori School. He then moved to McKee Road, where he has taught for the past 11 years.
For Smith, teaching is more about the individuals and less about the athletic skills. That’s how he’s directed his classroom for many years now, a method that’s proven to better encourage his students time and time again, he said.
“You don’t have to play sports. You don’t have to be on a team – just get outside and play. I don’t teach to just athletes,” Smith said. “Not too many years into teaching at McKee, I started to see students becoming inactive, so I brought a new philosophy to the PE program, one that doesn’t focus on competition but focuses on goal setting,” adding that each student sets their own goals. “I saw lower skilled kids come in smiling because they achieved their goals.”
It’s that kind of impact that encouraged teachers at the school to nominate Smith for the Teacher of the Year award, Lundgren said, describing Smith as dedicated, caring and motivated. He said Smith frequently goes above and beyond the call of duty, making contacts to help his program, writing grants and taking initiatives on projects like the school’s new playground facility that was dedicated April 24. Smith helped generate the idea to create a natural playground at the school that would mimic the topography of North Carolina, including sections representing the mountains, piedmont and shoreline.
“He sees the bigger picture and is able to have a great impact on all of our students,” Lundgren said. “Really the caring part, that’s the key to any successful teacher. He’s just a great teacher with good classroom management skills, which enables him to have a lot of fun in the classroom.”