WITN’S Teacher of the Week: Joanne Sutzko of White Oak Elementary

CARTERET COUNTY, NC (WITN) - WITN's Teacher of the Week for May 22 is Joanne Sutzko of White Oak Elementary in Carteret County.

oanne Sutzko of White Oak Elementary

Sutzko has been teaching with Carteret County Schools for 18 years. She became interested in teaching after volunteering in her daughter’s kindergarten class. “She had an amazing kindergarten teacher (NormJean Gomez) and she inspired me and made me realize that this is what I want to do with my life,” Sutzko writes.

Sutzko got a job as a teaching assistant and went back to school at night while raising my two girls on her own. After she graduated, she took her first job teaching Kindergarten and has been there ever since. She also went back to school to earn her Masters in Education.

“I remember growing up and always being afraid to speak in school and felt as if I was not smart. I decided that I never wanted any child to feel that way and that is why I love kindergarten. They also believe that I am 21 every year.

“The biggest reward that anyone can get from teaching is when your middle school and high school students come back to visit you and tell you how much they miss kindergarten. That is how I know I made a positive impact on a child. Unfortunately, I was forced out of my classroom beginning March 2019 due to metastatic cancer which has gone into my bones. But there is not one day that I do not think about my classroom or my students and worry about them. They are my life and I miss them dearly.

I also give many thanks to a wonderful volunteer that came into my classroom four years ago and has been with me since then. He is dedicated and is so loved by the children. He has made an amazing difference for the children as well.

The parent who nominated Sutzko is named Daniel Shell, a retired public safety executive who has been volunteering in Sutzko’s classroom for the past few years. He wrote: “Jo has been quite open and candid concerning her battle with cancer. I’ve watched her the past few years fight through intense discomfort on numerous occasions in favor of arriving at school to teach her class rather than taking care of herself. Jo’s passion for her kids and their success is a joy to observe and I have been humbled to have been a small part of it. Sadly, my wife and I were away the month of February when Jo informed me her cancer which had been in remission for seven years had returned for the third time and it had entered her bones. To say I was heartbroken when Jo told me her education career was coming to end ... would be an understatement at best. She and I have cried countless times since being informed of her situation. I’m simply ill prepared to lose my friend.

“I’ve been in the role of overseeing a rather large workforce of State law enforcement personnel and know intimately the dangers and rewards associated with the responsibility of protecting property and saving lives. I share this not to blow my own horn, rather; I see the level of commitment, passion and skill set needed to be a teacher in today’s unpredictable climate and I am absolutely amazed how our teachers do it “day in and day out.” I’ve often said, having been on a SWAT Team during my career, give me hostage/barricade situation and my heartbeat will not go up a blip. Put me in an elementary school, especially a class of kindergarteners, and I fall apart. Thankfully, Ms. Sutzko and the WOES staff have been some of the most welcoming and caring people I’ve had the honor to work with.”

Congratulations, Ms. Sutzko! We wish you comfort and strength as you battle cancer.

Every week during the school year WITN will recognize a Teacher of the Week on WITN News at Sunrise. The winner receives a plaque and a $100 Walmart gift card.