Rebecca Rundlett knows the odds.
By the time she was 9 years old, Rundlett had attended six elementary schools and was constantly shuffled between living with her single mother and her grandparents.
By all accounts, she said, she should have failed.
“Fortunately for me, I refused to. . . ” she recalls of those early years.
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The Camden High English teacher says it was that same persistence that led her into education and continues to give her a connection with the students who sit in the back rows of her classrooms and refuse and resist.
“I could have been one of them,” she said.
Instead, she’s been credited with inspiring those same students after being named the Kershaw County Teacher of the Year for 2014.
The 11-year veteran of the school was honored recently during a gala after being selected from the district’s 20 schools and later chosen from six finalists.
Rundlett’s sense of persistence is one that she tries to pass along to students.
“My primary goal as an educator is to instill a sense of tenacity and determination in my students,” she said. “Too often students are unsuccessful because they quit. They quit trying. They quit doing. They quit caring. This is especially true for our at-risk students who have had very few academic successes in their lives. We must teach them to refuse to fail.”
But for that philosophy to work, she said teachers must make the same commitment to their students.
“As educators, we can’t quit on our students,” Rundlett said. “No children want to be unsuccessful, and they need someone to teach them how to persevere. So it falls on us to be diligent and continuously work with our students to help them become who they want to be.”
Rundlett started her career as a teacher in an alternative school in Tennessee andworked as a teacher and behavior specialist in a youth home in Little Rock, Ark. She came to Camden High in 2003 and has served as the English department chair, National Honor Society sponsor and cheer/dance sponsor.
Camden High principal Dan Matthews calls Rundlett a “master” teacher.
“As an English teacher, she teaches some of our most challenging students as well as our most gifted,” he said. “Never one to shirk a responsibility, Mrs. Rundlett seeks opportunities to improve our school.”
Rundlett feels that one of the greatest challenges facing educators today is dealing with the many distractions students encounter each day.
“In today’s world we are fighting for the attention of our students,” she said. “We must compete with a constant stream of news, data and technology. This requires us to approach our students differently than our teachers approached us when we were in school.”
To that end, she feels teachers must “light a fire” in their students.
“This task may seem impossible to some because all children are different and what lights a fire in one child may not even produce a spark in another child,” she said. “It is our mission to find what works for each child and set that fire. Of course, this is easier said than done.”
Rundlettwill now compete for the state Teacher of the Year honor.