How Future Teacher Zakia Williams Found a New Path at UNC Charlotte

Zakia Williams began her time at UNC Charlotte as a transfer student grappling with changing her major. In a pivotal session, her academic advisor asked Williams what she was passionate about and wanted from a future career. Her answers helped guide her decision to pursue a dual major in elementary and special education, a signature combination at the Cato College of Education.

“Transferring and discovering a new major has proven to be one of the best decisions I have made for myself. It put me on the path to meet many amazing professors that have taken the time to support me throughout my journey as both an educator and a continuing learner,” she said.

In 2023, Williams completed her student teaching minutes from UNC Charlotte’s main campus at Mallard Creek Elementary School in what she calls an “incredible adventure.”

“There have been so many celebrations, learning experiences, and challenges. All of these moments have pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and recognize the potential I have while helping build my confidence,” she said. At Mallard Creek, Williams collaborated on a variety of teaching practices including instruction, lesson planning, and classroom management. She says student teaching was a golden opportunity to both see and be a part of a dynamic school community.

“Beyond learning and meeting my degree requirements, I truly needed the experience for myself and I loved every moment of it,” she said, adding that she is beginning to understand the flexibility and grace that are hallmarks of great teachers.

“My approach to teaching is heavily influenced by collaboration, in the sense of knowing how to assess students to determine where to start, identifying when changes need to be made based on data and behavior, or even how to be there as an additional support because I will be working with not only the children but their families.”

Williams’ college experience has not been without challenges. While experiencing the loss of a family member and finding it challenging to keep up with school, she decided to take a semester off during the pandemic to focus on her mental health. 

“I remember constantly thinking to myself all the ‘what ifs’ that would come with the decision. I made an appointment to talk with Dr. Kelly Anderson and she took the time to hear me out, reassured me that I had her support, and that we would work together to get me on track to graduate. Looking back, I am proud of myself for practicing self awareness and being proactive in working towards a solution.”

Williams’ persistence was rewarded when she was offered and accepted a position as a teacher at a Charlotte elementary school following graduation. Professor Anderson says the new teacher is poised to make a difference.

“Because of her life experiences and resilience Zakia will continue to model what it means to overcome obstacles and achieve goals. She is one of those students that reminds us as faculty why we love teaching and chose education as a field.”