news-category: Alumni

Gardner-Webb Alumna Honored with Award from State and National Teachers of English

Celebrating Alumni graphic

Chelsea Curtis, ’23, Receives High School Teacher of Excellence Award for Exemplary Work

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Chelsea Curtis, a 2023 graduate of the Master of Arts in English program at Gardner-Webb University, received recognition from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Virginia Association of Teachers of English (VATE). Described as a passionate teacher who uses project-based learning to engage her students, Curtis was selected by both organizations as a 2023 High School Teacher of Excellence honoree. This award honors and celebrates high school classroom teachers who demonstrate excellent practices and contributions in the classroom.

Curtis teaches at Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway, Va., where she has worked for nearly five years. The school is a New Tech Network Academy, which means that she co-teaches her English classes with history teachers. They combine curricula for a holistic learning experience, and invite experts from various fields to visit the classroom and provide feedback on the students’ work.

Four months ago, she added the role of dual enrollment adjunct instructor for Patrick & Henry Community College in Martinsville, Va. Curtis understands how important it is for students to have the option to earn free college credits while in high school. “A college education may feel like an unattainable goal for many from rural communities due to finances, stereotypes, and distance,” she related. “The ultimate reward is seeing these students gain confidence from completing dual enrollment coursework and watching them continue their education or training after graduation. Of course, my favorite is when students use their skills to come back to the community and enrich our local industries.”

Chelsea Curtis, center, receives her award at the Virginia Association of Teachers of English.

She received the state award recently. “I was surrounded by colleagues from my district and other Virginia educators,” Curtis reflected. “It is such an honor! Both VATE and NCTE have been great resources for me in my teaching career. I was very surprised when I found out that I was chosen—there are a lot of deserving teachers that I’ve encountered in my career.”

The national award will be presented on Nov. 18 at the 2023 NCTE Annual Convention in Columbus, Ohio.  

Curtis chose the master’s program at Gardner-Webb, because she wanted to continue to teach while earning her master’s. “Also, Gardner-Webb’s program was attractive to me because the concentration in secondary education still allowed me to take literature courses—Caribbean Literature was probably one of my favorite courses at GWU!” she noted. “Moreover, I was able to learn and apply concepts directly to my classes during the program, reflecting on them with the English faculty.”

Curtis became a teacher after realizing that she could combine her interests—serving people and reading—to make a difference. “I didn’t always know that I wanted to teach, but I knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession,” she explained. “I’ve always found refuge in reading, and in high school, I helped lots of friends write essays and personal statements. That was around the time when I started to think about using reading and writing to help others. I believe there is a great amount of power in words, and teaching English is my way of helping others use their voice.”

In middle school, college and graduate school, she’s had mentors who have encouraged and inspired her. Through the example of her seventh-grade English teacher, Curtis started to consider a career in education. Her undergraduate English professors changed the way she viewed education and influenced her to make learning a lifelong pursuit. As she worked on her master’s, Dr. Jennifer Buckner at Gardner-Webb, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of English, helped her sharpen her teacher-researcher skills during the Capstone process. “I don’t know that I could’ve made it through my final semester without her support,” Curtis shared. “My capstone was the toughest, yet most rewarding thing I’ve accomplished. I also loved working with Dr. Heather Wright as I found our passions on rural education aligned. Both Dr. Buckner and Dr. Wright were extremely influential in helping me see through to the end of that tunnel. Even now, they continue to support me as I look toward publication opportunities.”

As she reflects on her most important role as a teacher, she wants her students to use what they know to express their own ideas and personalities. “One day, my students will be teachers, medical professionals, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and service members among other roles,” she observed. “My job isn’t necessarily to make sure that they can craft a perfect essay or find the theme in what they’re reading. Instead, I want to make sure that they are able to use critical thinking and their voice in whatever they decide to do.”

About NCTE

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is devoted to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education. For more than 100 years, NCTE has worked with its members to offer journals, publications, and resources; to further the voice and expertise of educators as advocates for their students at the local and federal levels; and to share lesson ideas, research, and teaching strategies through its Annual Convention and other professional learning events.

About Gardner-Webb

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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