Henrico’s Top Teachers – Nicole Williams

To the students who call her their teacher, there’s just something different about Nicole Williams.

"You can trust her with anything you tell her," one wrote in a nomination letter.

"She isn't like any other teacher," wrote another.

"She's just the greatest of all time," wrote a third.

Williams doesn’t deny that she's not quite a typical teacher, either.

“I’m a little extra, and I'm a little random, but that's okay,” she said. “They're going to have to love it, just as they're going to have to love me being different. I sing at pep rallies. I sing in the hallways. [Talking to students] I’m like, ‘None of your teachers sing to you? Oh, ok.’”

Williams, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Varina High School, is passionate about what she does, and she doesn’t leave anyone guessing about that.

“I live it and breathe it in every single thing I do, in the interactions I am able to have in the classroom. . . or out of the classroom, in youth sports, church events.”

Because she teaches an elective rather than a core subject, Williams finds that her students sometimes are more excited because “they are able to take what they learn and use it immediately,” she said.

Lessons about culinary arts, relationships, fashion and other topics tend to resonate with students – even if many didn’t know what they were getting into initially.

“Kids are excited about taking the course because it's an elective, but they have no idea what the course truly entails,” Williams said. “There are lots of hands-on activities. I like to make sure that they see how relevant it is to their lifestyles.”

Though she's only in her fourth year of teaching in a public school system, Williams has been teaching in one form or another since she was just 14, when she led a summer school class for children just two years younger than herself at a Christian school.

"I had to learn pretty quickly how to control a class using genuine respect and tone quality – and love," she recalled of that first opportunity.

Williams is a product of Varina High School herself – something that gives her a unique connection to her students.

“I believe that it's a deeper connection here because I know this place, I understand their feelings,” she said. “To be from the area, you know what it is – you don't have to guess. There is no research that has to be done. It’s almost cheating to a certain extent. It feels really good to work in a place where you grew up.”

Though she sees herself at Varina for some time, Williams has big dreams, too. She is working on her master's degree in educational leadership and hopes one day to start a pre-K-through-12th grade school of her own (ideally in Eastern Henrico) that promotes families and education.

"The issue is that [some] families don't know how to educate our kids," she said. "They're not familiar with the education process."

Judging from the nominations submitted in her name by nearly 30 students, what truly makes Williams unique is her ability to form and keep relationships with her students. She's not afraid to use a tough-love approach when needed, but she makes it clear that she's always on their side.

“They're my babies,” she said. “I tell them that as soon as they walk across my threshold that they are my babies and I love them – but love is accountability. We work hard from the first minute I see them to the last day they see me. A lot of the kids who may not meet other teachers' expectations, they work hard for me.

“It's relationships- truly seeing every single kid for the individual that they are,” she said. “It’s my job just to be as different as they are. Differences are great. All year long, nobody feels out of place because we work so hard to create an inviting atmosphere. Because they feel safe, they feel able to be open.”

The lessons Williams has imparted to those students over the years continue to resonate.

"She is like a mom to me and other students," one wrote. "She is always there for people whenever you have to talk about something. She basically taught me right from wrong."
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May 2017
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Tuckahoe Library will host “Full STEAM Ahead!” for ages 8+ from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Explore, create and invent at interactive stations featuring littleBits electronic building block sets, Makey Makeys, cool experiments and more. Learn science, engineering and art concepts through hands-on activities. Hosted by the West End Teen Advisory Board. Register online at http://www.henricolibrary.org. Full text

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