A love of language lured Margaret Beckner into the classroom 36 years ago, and every day the French teacher at Cox High School in Virginia Beach finds something new to love about her work. Originally from Greensboro, N.C., Beckner started out working for an investment banking firm on Wall Street but quickly realized finance wasn’t her passion. When she returned to North Carolina, Beckner’s mother offered her a practical piece of advice: Become a teacher.
“I sort of backed into teaching,” Beckner laughs. “French just always made sense to me, and teaching was a way to make money and put bread on the table.”
Every day is different, and Beckner loves the diversity that comes with teaching. “Every time the bell rings, I have a different set of students with unique personalities and needs,” she says. “I can never predict how those needs will change from class to class.”
Language shapes every part of the human experience, from history to art to culture, and Beckner enjoys the flexibility of being able to address so many different topics. “The classroom is a vehicle for kids to question everything,” she says. “Learning another language gives students a chance to look away from their cell phones and see the world through a new lens.” Beckner explores the world right alongside her students, and learning new things is a perk of the job. “Teaching means I’m still a student,” she says. “Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new, whether it’s a piece of trivia or a new word. I am always looking to connect the dots through language. It’s like unlocking a puzzle or going on a scavenger hunt.”
Beckner sets high expectations for her students, and she doesn’t award mediocrity. “I care first and foremost about who my students are as people, and I want them to have a pleasant experience in my classroom,” she says. “But I also want to challenge them every step of the way.”
Beckner not only challenges her students; she also challenges herself. “My goal is to walk into the classroom and be better than I was the day before,” she says. “Teaching is an honest profession. You’re not selling a product or trying to talk someone out of their money. There is still a great deal of integrity in the career.”
Being selected as a Top Teacher came as a delightful surprise for Beckner, who is flattered by the recognition. “I have had the pleasure of sharing the lives, loves, hopes and joys of my students and colleagues,” she says. “Folks who sit in front of a computer screen all day don’t get that level of interaction with people.”
Beckner was nominated by Kieran Poulos, a former student. “Margaret Beckner inspired my love for the French language and culture,” Poulos writes in her nomination. “She spent countless hours during and after school helping me prepare for the AP French exam, and she was always my biggest supporter. I went on to study at the University of Virginia, where I minored in French, and I am now an immigration lawyer, carrying on the love of foreign cultures that she instilled in me. I am forever grateful for her inspiration, knowledge and love during my high school years.”
Beckner and her husband, Woody, have been married for 32 years. The couple lives in Virginia Beach and has two grown children, Liz and Jack.