What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?
During my senior year of college, I was given an assignment in my public policy course that required me to conduct research on education. I'm not naive, so I knew that there were issues within education. However, to qualify and quantify the disparities that existed within our educational system was not only enlightening, but also alarmingly disappointing.
Here I was, valedictorian of an inner-city New Orleans public school system, and I felt horrible. I felt as though I was robbed out of an education. My top-level academic performance was reduced by the poor quality of education I had received in comparison to the quality of education received by an average performing student in a suburban, middle- to upper-class area. I knew that I could just sit back and complain about it or I could actually get involved and do something.
I chose the latter and decided to join the many educators who face each day with a mission, a passion: to provide a quality educational experience to children whose only chance at living a productive and successful life is through the educational system.
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I applied for a teaching practitioner program for noneducation majors. Not only was I accepted, but I was awarded a scholarship. This was my confirmation, that forgoing my lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer/judge to pursue a career in education was the right choice. It was my destiny. Six years later, I have no regrets.
If you were not an educator, what would you like to do for a living?
I would probably be a family court attorney/ juvenile court judge. Growing up, I always watched "The Cosby" family. I loved Claire Huxtable (Phyllis Rashaad). She was strong, intelligent and authoritative. I admired that.
Today, I still watch reruns and find that I can be like her in different ways, other than career choice. But I would definitely be doing something to help our most vulnerable population, children.
What one thing have you borrowed from your favorite teacher that you use in your classroom?
My favorite teachers were teachers who had high expectations for me and weren't afraid to "go mama" on me and let me know when I could and should be doing more. I went through a phase where I was doing only "enough" to maintain my GPA, but they pulled me to the side and said, "I know you can do better, what's going on?"
Or "I heard that you are dating John and just be careful not to go too deep and get distracted from your studies." They weren't only concerned about my academic performance but also about my emotional and mental development.
Today, I try to foster an environment that encourages students to do your best and if you have a problem, you can always come and talk to me and I promise that I won't judge you.
Mrs. Hankton and Mrs. Green were teachers that I could depend on. They were more than just teachers; they were adults that all the students knew they could trust and depend on to provide a motherly-type of education.
Describe how you learned you were named Teacher of the Year in your district, and how you celebrated?
I was surprised, early one Friday morning, when the district superintendent and all of the board members stormed my classroom. I thought that they were just there to congratulate me on being the school's Teacher of the Year. I figured that they went around to all of the schools giving personal congratulations.
When Dr. (Venus) Holland, superintendent, said that I not only was Busbee's Teacher of the Year but also Lexington 2's District Teacher of the Year, I almost fell out. I was speechless. It was an honor I never saw coming.
I know that I am doing my best in the classroom, but this is a journey for me. I am not the teacher that I want to be yet, but thank God that others around me see that I am striving on the way. Learning is a process not only for students, but also for educators.
My Busbee family celebrated with fellowship and a personalized cake. I also had dinner with my immediate family. I haven't had a big celebration yet; my husband is planning a really nice celebratory vacation in June.
What recognition did you receive for being named District Teacher of the Year?
I was also named the West Columbia Chamber of Commerce's Teacher of the Year. I received a distinguished educator award from Mungo Homes. I was featured in the Lexington County Chronicle newspaper and the Cayce West Columbia News.
I also received a monetary stipend from Lexington 2 and the S.C. State Department of Education.
What would your students say you are best known for?
Hmm. Hopefully, they would say that I am firm but fair and I expect them to do their best. They also always comment on my New Orleans style of talk, such as prefacing my statement with "son (could you please have a seat)" and saying babay (instead of bab-e).
How do you see current economic conditions affecting your classroom, and how do you try to counteract that?
Most people don't understand the impact that the economy has on the entire family, particularly children, who may not understand why their standard of living has changed. Students will often come to class without daily supplies and materials. They may not be able to supply the materials needed to complete a special project. In addition, they may not be able to afford the cost of a field trip, or replacing a lost/stolen ID or agenda.
As teachers, we try to make sure that we have extra supplies readily available and that we make field trips, school dances, etc., as cheap as possible. I remember being embarrassed to ask my teacher for a pencil or paper.
As a teacher, I have established an environment where students are not afraid to raise their hands and ask for a pencil, paper, eraser, etc. I've always believed that not having a pen/pencil should not stop a child from learning.
I know that some teachers are sticklers for "coming to school prepared to learn," but during these economic times, being prepared is being ready in mind to learn even if you don't have the necessary supplies or material. That part, I can take care of.
What one item could you never do without in your classroom and why?
As long as I have a mouth and an engaged group of students, I feel as though I can be effective. I'm a talker. I love to engage my students with stories, that just so happen to be historically accurate.
What has been your most memorable classroom moment over the past year?
Definitely being surprised as Lexington 2's District Teacher of the Year.
If you are named a finalist for S.C. Teacher of the Year, who will be the first nonrelative you call?
There were so many people who've supported and encouraged me throughout my professional development, it's going to be a difficult decision. It would probably be my friends/adopted sisters, Shay Young, Daralyn Washington and Enola Perkins.
We've been through a lot together, including Hurricane Katrina, and they've always respected and supported me in my professional endeavors. They are there to hear all of my stories of frustrations and successes. Not once have they spoken negatively about my profession.
They understand the importance of what I do and believe in my ability to accomplish all that I set out to. It is an understatement to say that "I wouldn't have made it this far without their support."
ERIRESHA KATRINA TERRY-LEWIS
School: Busbee Creative Arts Academy
Subject: South Carolina History (Social Studies)
Years at Busbee: 4
Years as an educator: 5 (taught one year in New Orleans public schools)
Family: Husband, Dwayne Lewis; kids, Dwayne Lewis Jr., Kelsie Lewis
Academic credentials/honors: Lexington 2 Teacher of the Year, 2009-10; Mary Meech Mungo Award by Mungo Homes Inc., 2009; Teacher of the Year for Busbee Creative Arts Academy, 2009-10; West Metro Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year, 2009-10; West Metro Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Month, September 2009; Teaching American History Fellow, summer 2005; Teach for Greater New Orleans scholarship recipient