What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?
My parents and grandparents influenced my decision to teach because they always encouraged me to be a creative, curious reader and investigator.
However, it was not until I was a teacher cadet at Brookland-Cayce High that teaching occurred to me as a serious career option. Then while in college, I worked with a student government organization that promoted the idea that everyone has something to teach and that everyone could learn. It was my work with this group that inspired me to go into the classroom to promote inquiry and creative expression.
If you were not an educator, what would you like to do for a living?
If forced to do something else, I would be either an archaeologist or a forensic anthropologist. I love a good mystery or whodunit. History is a giant puzzle with some of the pieces missing, and those two careers would allow me to try and help sort out some of the lost fragments.
I am always telling my students that our interpretation of history is evolving due to new discoveries and information. These jobs would make me a part of history. Even better, I would be able to get my hands dirty by digging in the dirt.
What one thing have you borrowed from your favorite teacher that you use in your classroom?
In high school, my favorite teacher, Martha Zion, encouraged creativity and inquiry through her use of projects and questioning techniques and materials outside of the textbook. She always saw the spark of intelligence that could be hidden behind the angst-filled and jaded eyes of adolescents.
I have taken from her my inquiry-based instruction and my emphasis on critical thinking skills. She always pushed us to challenge ourselves to learn more than was in the curriculum. I have taken that challenge on and incorporate a variety of resources in my instruction.
Describe how you learned you were named Teacher of the Year in your district, and how you celebrated.
Richland 1 celebrates its teachers of the year at an annual celebration dinner that includes retirees, school teachers of the year, school employees of the year and the announcement of the District Teacher of the Year.
Just like the Miss America contest, the five finalists were called to the front, where we awaited the announcement. When it was my name, everything moved in slow motion until I saw the smiling faces of my family and principal.
The following day, my classroom was decorated by the amazing Dreher team and I celebrated with my students and faculty.
What recognition did you receive for being named District Teacher of the Year?
It has been an amazing year of celebration for my students, district and me. I have been featured in school and district publications. I have participated in numerous events, from the Back to School Bash to the Hall of Fame Gala. I am in regular rotation on Richland 1 TV.
In addition, I participate in committees and groups where I am allowed to represent all teachers in the district. CERRA provided us with a Regional Forum in Rock Hill with the State Teacher of the Year, and I look forward to attending the Winter Forum this February, where I will meet with all district teachers.
What would your students say you are best known for?
My students would probably discuss my seemingly boundless energy and excitement that I present each day. I am known for jumping around, drawing pictures on the board, singing, and even providing a little interpretive dance if the lesson calls for it. It is not just me either; I encourage them to be participants rather than observers.
I also provide a theme for each day, such as Time of Tumultuous Twenties Tuesday in U.S. History or Finally Figuring out Fear Friday in Psychology class, which they mention all the time.
Finally, they would probably point out that we are always doing something. There is no time to waste in class, and we work from start to end.
How do you see current economic conditions affecting your classroom, and how do you try to counteract that?
Due to budget cuts we have fewer teachers, which translates into larger class sizes. We also have less money available for purchasing supplies and supplemental materials, which also impacts the quality of instruction.
Students are coming in with fewer supplies and materials and needing more basic materials. To compensate, I break students into smaller groups so that they do not feel lost in large class environments, which allows me to facilitate learning in a more personal manner.
I also am making use of any and all paper and materials. We save and recycle all so that it can be used by a student or myself.
What one item could you never do without in your classroom, and why?
Without my students there would be no classroom or school. Students with their hopes, dreams, troubles, struggles and curiosity make every day challenging, rewarding and creative. Give me a classroom full of students and I can make learning happen, but without them all of the technology, books and materials are useless.
However, if I must be pinned down to a nonliving item, I must say that the SMARTBoard has revolutionized my teaching methods and invigorated me in the classroom like nothing else, and I would hate to lose it.
What has been your most memorable classroom moment over the past year?
Every day I spend in the classroom is a memorable one because I believe teachers must make every moment and day matter to help prepare our young people.
However, I will not forget the spontaneous standing ovation my AP Psychology students gave me when they heard the announcement that I was the District Teacher of the Year. It was an awesome moment.
If you are named a finalist for S.C. Teacher of the Year, who will be the first non-relative you call?
I will call my friend, a wonderful colleague and the best department chair ever, Julie Lumpkin. We started together in graduate school, and I have now had the privilege of working with her for the past nine years. I am only one member of the tremendous Dreher faculty, so being named a finalist would not just reflect on me as a teacher, but also the hard work, skill, and creativity of people like Julie Lumpkin.
School: Dreher High
Subject: AP and honors U.S. history, AP psychology
Years at Dreher: 11
Years as an educator: 13
Family: Husband, David; children Kieran, 7, and Keowin, 5
Academic credentials: Bachelor's in history, Florida State University; master's in secondary social studies, University of South Carolina; NBCT, AYA Social Studies