Log in Newsletter


Get to know the award-winning Cumberland County teacher students call ‘Momma Vera’


Jack Britt High School teacher Betsey Vera shed happy tears when she found out she’d been named Cumberland County Schools’ 2024 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Teacher of the Year. 

Vera, who has taught health science for 12 years and is a registered nurse, was surprised with the award at a March 27 CTE Business Advisory Board meeting at Fayetteville Technical Community College. 

The award has been given out by the North Carolina Center for Advancement for Teaching for three years and is the first step to regional and state-level competitions, the release said. Vera will represent Cumberland County Schools this summer in the Sandhills regional competition.

CityView spoke with Vera about her passion for her students, how she juggles two jobs and why she’s earned the nickname “Momma Vera.” Her answers are excerpted below and have been edited for brevity and clarity. 


CITYVIEW: How did you get into the field of education, and specifically career and technical education (CTE)?

BETSEY VERA: I’ve been a registered nurse for 24 years now. When I was working full-time as a home health nurse, because I was there for the longest time, they would always send the new nurses with me for ride-alongs to get their orientation done. And one comment I continuously heard was, “I like the way you teach. I understand it clearly.” I just kept hearing that. “You teach really well to the point that I really understand it.”

Well, I’m also the triage nurse for this home health agency, and I was interviewing a nurse for a position, and one of her previous jobs was as a teacher. And I always thought that in order to teach, you had to have your master’s. So I asked for clarification. I was like, “Are you a school nurse or are you teaching?” And she says, “I’m teaching.” I said, “Where can you teach without a master’s?” She’s like, “In high school here in Cumberland County.” … She told me what to do. She said, “Go online. I’m sure they’re hiring in your area.” I went online on Monday. I applied. On Tuesday, I received a call for an interview on Wednesday and was hired on Thursday.

When you found out you won the CTE Teacher of the Year award, it was a surprise announcement. Can you walk me through what happened?

We all had our interview process on one day, and then I received an email stating, “You have been invited to a luncheon” just to celebrate us. So when I arrived, I was expecting all of the other candidates to arrive as well. Well, the time kept on passing, and everything was supposed to start at 12 o’clock. [At] 11:45, I’m the only one there; 11:50, I’m the only one there. [At] 12 o’clock, they start the meeting. I started tearing [up] already. They started the meeting, they read the agenda, and then one of the young ladies who was there to interview me was the one who announced it … Oh my god, I just started crying. It was just an honor. It was just a joy. 

In the news release, it’s mentioned that a lot of students call you “Momma Vera.” Why is that?

I had a student who would always come and eat her lunch in my classroom with me. This one particular day, she didn’t get up to go and get her lunch. I was like, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you getting her lunch?” 

She says, “I don’t have any money.” I said, “Well, when you know you don’t have any money on your lunch account, you should bring lunch from home.” And she started crying. So I’m like, “Sweetie, why are you crying?” She says, “I only have two cans of corn in my closet.” 

I said, “Are you kidding? Stop playing. You should bring your lunch when you don’t have money on your lunch account.” And she started crying harder [and said] “Ms. Vera, I only have two cans of corn in my cupboard” until her mom was to receive her food stamps or whatever it was they received once a month. My heart just dropped.

That day, it changed me. I took her into the lunchroom, I put money on her card, got her lunch, packed up some canned goods when I got home and brought it to her. And ever since that day, there isn’t a day that I don’t have food in my classroom for whoever needs it. 

The kids know that if they need something, they can come to me. So that’s probably why that [nickname] has been adopted. I’m like their mom. Whatever they need, I provide to them. It’s not about the lesson all the time. [A student is] a whole, full being, and they have other needs besides the lesson that we need to teach them.

You like to use technology in your classroom and keep students up-to-date with the tools that are used in the medical field. Can you talk about the technology you use and why you think it’s important to keep students aware of that?

The medical field is one field that is always changing, always updating. We no longer document on paper. We document on the computer. So that’s very important for them to understand. 

All they use is their cell phones. Everything is cell phone, cell phone, cell phone. No one writes anything anymore. So if this is what they’re using, then we have to match them. We have to meet them where they’re at in order to prepare them for their career, because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. 

We would be doing them a disservice if we did not teach them all of the technology that is out there right now so that once they do get into their career, they will be comfortable using the technology that exists. Again, the medical field is a fast-growing industry, and they have to be flexible, they have to be open, they have to be able to accept criticism and be able to learn different technologies. 

You have to be flexible and be able to learn and understand that you’re going to come across complications, you’re going to have issues, you’re going to hit a wall, but you’re going to have to be able to overcome that. And if you’re not able to do it here in my classroom, then that’s going to be my fault, because I’m not teaching you how to get through that when you get into your career.

It starts in the classroom. Even music — when these kids are at home, what are they doing when they’re doing their homework? They’re listening to music. So I have them listen to music in the classroom, too, because I want them to be comfortable. I want them to be in a place where they feel free and they feel comfortable doing their work.

You’re passionate about finding field trips for your students. What are some of the field trips that you’ve organized?

My 9th and 10th graders, I like to take them on college tours, because a lot of these students have never stepped foot in a college. They don’t know what it looks like.

You can’t wait until you become a senior to then try to fix all the mistakes that you made as a freshman. By the time you’re a senior, it’s too late. So I like to expose my younger kids to that, because sometimes, when you talk to them, they don’t listen to Momma Vera, and sometimes you don’t listen to your mama at home. But if you listen to the staff of the college [that students visit] that’s telling you exactly what you need to be able to go to their school, then maybe that light will turn on so you understand that what I’m telling you is the truth. That’s not everybody, but at least they’ve been exposed to several people telling them the same thing. 

I also like to take trips to the hospital so that they can see the environment that they want to be working in. 

You work as a “First Responder” at Jack Britt. What does that entail?

Every high school sport here has to have a medical professional present in order for them to play the game in case there are any injuries. We also provide them with fluids to keep them hydrated during their game. I just happen to be a registered nurse as well; you don’t have to be a nurse to be a “First Responder,” but that has benefited us greatly. I can at least do a little bit more than the average “First Responder.”

You also work as a triage nurse for a home health agency on weekends. How do you balance everything?

That’s what everybody asks me, and my answer to them is, growing up, I never saw my mother rest. My mother never sat down on the couch and put her feet up. From the morning when she woke up until it was time for her to go to sleep, my mom was always doing something. And that’s where I get it from. I don’t know any different. 

When I don’t have anything to do, [like if] a game gets canceled after school, I feel so weird, because I’m like, “What am I going to do?” 

I have three boys. They all play sports. Sometimes I have to go to one game, and then at halftime, I have to go run to the other game. I’ve always been doing something. That’s just my norm; that’s what’s normal for Ms. Vera. When I don’t have anything to do, then that’s abnormal for me.

What has been the most meaningful moment in your teaching career thus far?

I follow a lot of my kids after they graduate. I have one student who decided that she wanted to be a nurse because she took my class. I always have a storytime; I always try to give [students] a real-life scenario related to the topic that we’re talking about. By the time she became a senior, she told me, “Ms. Vera, I want to be like you. I want to be a nurse.” And that’s actually what she went and did. She went ahead and graduated and went to school, and she’s a nurse today. 

To have that impact on someone [so they] make that kind of decision and have a career that they’re going to be doing for the rest of their life, and I was able to influence them — that’s gold. I told the interview staff [for the award], “I’m a winner already. Even if I don’t make it and I don’t win, I feel I’m a winner for others to see what I’m doing aside from my students. I feel like I won already.” 

What else would you want people to know?

One important thing that I feel all CTE teachers should do is make sure that their students come first. A lot of teachers, their number one priority is to get the lesson done, give [students] work to do, give them their homework. But if you have one kid in that class who doesn’t know if they’re going to eat when they get home, or if you have that one kid who doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep because they’re homeless, or if you have that one kid who knows he’s going to be abused when he gets home, he’s not going to care about the heart or the lungs or the muscles. He’s worried about something else. 

I try to explain that I focus on those kids that may not be doing my work, or may be doing incomplete work, or may be dozing off and not paying attention. Those are the students that I try to focus on to see what else may be going on. 

Yes, the majority of your students are going to do the lesson because they’re prepared and ready to do so, but there are others that are not, and those are the ones you want to catch and help.

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

Cumberland County Schools, Q&A, career and technical education