Monica Wilkerson: From potential lawyer to teacher

Monica Wilkerson, Leesville English teacher, teaches a lesson to her Pre-AP English II students. Wilkerson never imagined that she would become a teacher; she wanted to study law. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Jumma)

As a young girl growing up in the small town of Bennettsville, South Carolina, Monica Wilkerson, an English teacher at Leesville, never imagined that she would someday become a teacher.

“I grew up wanting to be a lawyer,” said Wilkerson. “I loved crime shows. I watched crime shows all of the time.”

However, as the youngest of three children by ten years, Wilkerson was advised by her father to earn a degree in a subject that didn’t require graduate school in case anything happened to him or her mother. So, Wilkerson turned to earning a teaching degree.

“When you student teach, it’s hard to study for the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), and that was the end of [becoming a lawyer],” said Wilkerson.

But Wilkerson has never looked back. She has spent 25 years teaching, spending time in both South Carolina and North Carolina.

And even though she wanted to study law, Wilkerson is happy with where she’s at as a teacher.

“I do enjoy being a teacher and I think that’s why I haven’t left,” said Wilkerson.

Journey to Teaching

Wilkerson’s path to becoming a teacher first began at the University of North Carolina, where she earned her degree. She originally planned to attend Emory University in Atlanta on a scholarship, but her dad convinced her to become a Tarheel, even though she grew up as a fan of the NC State Wolfpack.

“[My family] grew up NC State fans—we weren’t supposed to go to Carolina,” said Wilkerson. “But [my father] talked me into it.”

After making the move from South Carolina to the neighboring Carolina, Wilkerson wound up right back in her hometown after college. She spent her first year of teaching back in Bennettsville, surrounded by many familiar faces: her father’s fraternity brother was her principal and her neighbor three doors down was the head of the English department at the school she taught at.

But Wilkerson didn’t stay home for long. After just one year, she moved back across the border again to North Carolina, earning a job in Wake County at Ligon Middle School.

However, with the help of a friend from her days at UNC, Wilkerson acquired a job as an English teacher at Leesville Road High School in 1995 after teaching for two years at Ligon. And it’s a job she’s held ever since.

During her 25 years of teaching, Wilkerson has always taught one subject—English. The only exception was one semester of Classical Mythology during her time at Ligon. Teaching English comes many challenges, from grading essays to managing paperwork, but Wilkerson doesn’t let them faze her.

“I try not to get overwrought about many things,” said Wilkerson.

Instead, she focuses on one initiative: helping her students love and improve in English.

“I focus on the challenge of giving my kids the best education possible and trying to make them at least love reading,” said Wilkerson.

But teaching English isn’t just about critiquing essays. As a teacher, Wilkerson enjoys having the opportunity to interact every day with students who dedicated to furthering their education.

“[I enjoy] talking to kids who are actually interested in what they are learning—kids who like to learn and want to grow, who want help,” said Wilkerson.

A Meaningful Purpose

Wilkerson admitted that when she first started teaching English, her goal was to “read together” with her students, as she is an avid literature consumer. However, now, she says her purpose for teaching is much more significant.

“It’s become more of my own mini crusade,” said Wilkerson. “I realize that I need to open student’s minds so that they can truly become productive members of society.”

Now, Wilkerson emphasizes to her students just how they can make their voices heard, reminding them to use the skills they learn in her class to make contributions to society.

And Wilkerson’s daughter Daryn, junior, said that’s what makes her mother a great teacher.

“She actually cares about her students,” said Daryn.

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