‘My students continue to inspire me’

Wednesday, the 2013-14 S.C. State Teacher of the Year will be selected from a field of five finalists during a Columbia ceremony.

Two of those finalists are from Midlands public schools — Beth Tuten of Swansea High and Patrick Kelly of Blythewood High.

We’ll get to know these two teachers Tuesday and Wednesday with Q&As, answered in their own words.

The winning Teacher of the Year will receive a $25,000 cash award and a new BMW to use for one year. During the 2014-15 school year, the winner will participate in a one-year residency program at the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement and will serve as a statewide ambassador for education. The other four finalists, known as Honor Roll teachers, will each receive $10,000.

Here, a Q&A with Tuten.

What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?

As a teenager, I volunteered each summer at a camp for teenagers and adults with intellectual disabilities called Camp Joy. It is Camp Joy that led me to go to college to become a special education teacher. After college I tried several different jobs, but about 15 minutes into my first day of teaching at Swansea High School I knew teaching would be my career. I had the greatest class of students and they made me want to be a great teacher! My students continue to inspire me, and I strive to be the best I can be for them because they deserve the best!

What one thing have you borrowed from your favorite teacher that you use in your classroom?

I have borrowed many things from accomplished teachers through the years, but the best idea I ever borrowed from another teacher is Peer Tutoring. Peer Tutoring is an elective class in which students from general education come into my classroom and work with my students who have intellectual disabilities. Peer Tutoring has transformed my classroom, my instructional and assessment techniques, and our entire school. My school is a highly inclusive environment for students with disabilities as a direct result of our Peer Tutoring program.

What would your students say you are best known for?

My students say I am best known for my height and my energy. I am 6’3” and that is somewhat remarkable for a woman, so it is reasonable that they associate me with being very tall. My students also know me as someone who is constantly on the go, and they know that because they are on the go with me. We are always on the move: running businesses in our school, learning in our community, traveling and competing in Special Olympics, and so much more. There is never a dull moment, we are constantly going and doing something!

What one item could you never do without in your classroom?

This may sound crazy, but it’s the washing machine. We get into so many different things during the course of a school day we have to wash at least two or three loads of clothes a day. My students run a coffee shop in our school, they cook meals for teachers, they operate a clothes closet for our community, they maintain a studio apartment lab, they embroider and screen print, and they take care of the uniforms for our Special Olympics teams. We keep the washing machine going, and I’d hate to try to have class without it!

What has been your most memorable moment in the classroom over the past year?

My most memorable moment this year was probably the moment I announced to my students that I was among the five finalists for S.C. State Teacher of the Year. I told my students I had something to show them and I pulled up the news story on the SMARTboard. As soon as they saw my picture on the board they started clapping and yelling “Congratulations!” Many of them didn’t know what the honor was all about, but they knew I was being celebrated and they were genuinely happy for me. It was a sweet moment that I hope to never forget.

How has technology changed the way you teach?

Technology has revolutionized my classroom. It has changed the way I instruct my students. I can take my students on virtual tours. My students can interact with information using a SMARTboard or an iPad in ways they couldn’t before. Technology has changed the way I assess my students. I can collect data from multiple students at once in real time and keep records of individualized progress. I use technology to transform my data into easy to read charts so students and parents can easily see progress. Technology has enhanced my teaching and helped me be a more efficient educator.

If you became state superintendent of education, what would be one of the first things you’d like to implement?

I would love to implement a virtual series of S.C. TED talks about education. TED talks are short 15-20-minute talks about ideas worth spreading that are shared at conferences around the world and available for all to see on the Internet. I would love for S.C. to have its own series of TED-like talks that encourage educators to share all of the noteworthy things that are happening in schools across our state. We have great things happening in our schools and I would love for us to have an efficient way of sharing these excellent ideas with one another.

Who is the first person you would call if you won State Teacher of the Year honors?

I would want my family and co-workers to be the first to know, but I think many of them will be present for the announcement. My first call would probably be to my best friends from college whom I affectionately call The Chubbs. I would have to work out some kind of conference call because there are five of them: Amy, Anna, Joy, Kristin and Tracy!

As you know, the winner of the State Teacher of the Year honor gets use of a BMW for a year. What was your first car?

My first car was a 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88. It was my grandfather’s car that got passed down to me. I was at first somewhat embarrassed by my green land-yacht on wheels, but I was so grateful to have my own car that I quickly got over it. I became the designated driver to every event in college because I could fit so many people in my car.