RICHLAND ONE EMPLOYEE PROFILE: District Teacher of the Year Kavon Barger Ensures His Students are Loved and Supported
A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary School second-grade teacher Kavon Barger always wants to be there for his students in and outside the classroom. He’ll attend their basketball games on Saturdays and even watch their school plays on his birthday.
“I skipped out on my birthday dinner with friends this year to attend my students’ play. The kids were so excited to see me there. It’s so important for me to foster those relationships and make sure they’re supported and loved,” said Barger, who is Richland One’s 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year.
Barger says forming those relationships is especially true for boys who may not have father figures at home. He grew up in Greenville without a father figure present. His mother worked as a manager for a manufacturing company, supporting Barger and his two siblings.
“I know how growing up without a father figure is like, and that pushed me to pursue a career where I can help children,” said Barger.
He didn’t originally plan to become a teacher when he enrolled in the University of South Carolina. He considered becoming a family lawyer, a pediatrician or a child psychologist before deciding to become a teacher his junior year. During his time at USC, Barger worked at a preschool on campus.
“When I worked at the preschool, I recognized the direct impact I could have on children in the classroom. It really sparked me,” he said.
Barger joined the A.J. Lewis Greenview staff in 2018 as a kindergarten instructional assistant. One of the things he noticed during his first year was how the neighborhood surrounding the school is a tight-knit community that’s extremely supportive. Some students at the school have relatives who attended when they were younger.
“A student in the class I was working in during my first year came into the classroom, and his mother was right behind him. My teacher told the mother, ‘I know that’s not you. Lord, you got a baby now.’ I love seeing these students attend the schools their parents went to,” said Barger.
After receiving his master’s degree from Columbia College, Barger became a second-grade teacher in the 2020-2021 school year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made his transition from instructional assistant to teacher more difficult.
“I was worried because I was a first-year teacher doing my lessons virtually, but that time taught me some new things about being a teacher and I learned to adjust,” he said. “When my students and I got back to the classroom, we were really able to go into overdrive with learning and catch up on things we may have missed during virtual lessons.”
When he’s teaching, Barger tries to make learning as fun as possible while also catering to the way in which each individual student learns. During one class, he had his students record a rap about geometry. One student, however, was not interested in participating.
“I asked the student what was going on. He told me he didn’t want to do it and performing wasn’t his thing. So, I made that student the class DJ and he was so happy about playing the music, he smiled the whole time,” said Barger.
Last school year, Barger taught third grade. The difference between teaching second and third grades, Barger says, is that third-grade students try to act more grown up, while still wanting the attention they received the year before.
“Third grade is a very interesting time in students’ lives because they’re trying to mature, but they still have those moments where they want to be loved like a second-grader,” he said.
Barger sees himself as a big brother to his students and wants to serve as an example for how successful they can be in the future with enough support.
“I want to be the person they can come to whenever they need me,” he said.
Barger says choosing to teach in Richland One was the best decision he ever made.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else right now. I hope I can stay at Greenview and in Richland One for a long time,” he said.
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