What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?
I’ve always loved learning new things, then teaching others what I have learned. When I attended North Augusta High School, I was selected for Teacher Cadet, a class that gives students a look at pursuing a profession in education. I fell in love – with the elementary music students I worked with in my practicum, the real-world projects that we created, the theories we discussed about how and why teachers do what they do … a fantastic experience! This program helped open the door for me to attend Newberry College as a S.C. Teaching Fellow. I’ve enjoyed every moment of this journey.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would your second career choice be?
Although I can’t imagine doing anything else, I think I’d like to be a singer or musician on Broadway. I’ve always enjoyed acting and singing, which I try to incorporate into my classroom as much as I can!
What one thing have you borrowed from your favorite teacher that you use in your classroom?
Several favorite teachers’ used children’s books to teach about life, humanity and our human story. A short but meaningful story can, amazingly, lead to a discussion that can shift a student’s paradigm in an entirely new direction. Dr. Seuss, whose words and messages are both timeless and timely, helps me make connections with kids who struggle to latch on to certain historical concepts, such as the plight of the environment through The Lorax, the origins of the Cold War through The Butter Battle Book, the Holocaust through The Sneetches, and simply loving and valuing others through Horton Hears a Who.
What would your students say you are best known for?
This question intrigued me, so I found a few students in the cafeteria and we talked it over at lunch. They said that I always wear unique ties and socks, that they love my creative lessons and that I make learning fun. They told me that I’m also known for incorporating music and humor into my lessons. One of the students told me that he knows that I love them all and am willing to do anything for my students. I enjoyed getting the chance to talk with the kids about this question.
What one item could you never do without in your classroom?
Music. I use music in so many ways in my class. I could not imagine teaching about the French Revolution, The Age of Industry or even the Holocaust without music. It is interwoven throughout every unit that we work through together.
What has been your most memorable moment in the classroom over the past year?
At my school, over 70 veterans from World War II to the modern War on Terror came in and spoke with our students about their service. The students conducted interviews, photographed and filmed them, and made documentaries to share with the community. One of the veterans, who served in Vietnam, read a poem entitled, “What is a Veteran?” The poem’s ending made everyone in the room emotional. We received thanks for offering an outlet for the veterans to share their stories, but our thanks must be given to those who have served our nation so bravely.
How has technology changed the way you teach?
Technology opens up worlds of opportunities for our students. Teachers are no longer the sole bearers of knowledge; students are not limited to a textbook or the walls of a schoolhouse in which to learn – technology has changed such paradigms. Today, students simply have to upload assignments to a cloud, teachers can assess their work and students can get meaningful feedback without having to print anything. We are blazing trails unimaginable years ago, preparing students for jobs that haven’t yet been created. Technology has definitely changed teaching, but is a tool that’s only as good as the teacher behind it.
If you became State Superintendent of Education, what would be one of the first things you’d like to implement?
If I were chosen by the citizens of South Carolina as State Superintendent, the first thing I would do is set up online communities for educators in our state so that we can begin to break down the walls that divide our districts from one another. The day has come to begin having cross-district conversations about the awesome things that are happening in our classrooms. Only together can we raise our state to the top – with the world at our fingertips, we can bring about real and positive change in our state.
Who is the first person you would call if you won the State Teacher of the Year title?
The first person I would call would be my Gannie, who inspired me to become a teacher. She taught kindergarten, but more than that, she taught me when I stayed at her house during summer vacation. We would get out a huge shoebox full of Greenbax stamps and stick them to cards to redeem at the store; we’d make paper plate puppets; she would take me to musical theater productions; and we spent countless hours just talking about life. She would be my first call should I be offered this amazing opportunity.
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 white 1991 Buick Park Avenue with a leather top. The cool thing about that car was that the ride was smooth and it had dual air conditioning. It was a great car, but I had to lay it to rest after my first year of teaching.
S.C. Teacher of the Year
The state’s top teaching award will be given Wednesday during a ceremony in Columbia.
In addition to Albert Robertson, the Midlands has a second finalist for the award – Daniel Oddo, a math teacher at Dreher High School, whose Q&A will be featured in this section Saturday.
The other three announced finalists are Suzanne Coty, Sumter High School, Sumter School District; Jeannie Durham, Rawlinson Road Middle School, Rock Hill District 3; and Hunter Jolley, Boiling Springs High School, Spartanburg District 2.
The winner of the S.C. Teacher of the Year title will receive $25,000 and a new BMW to drive for a year. The four remaining finalists will each receive a check for $10,000. All 82 school districts select a district teacher of the year, and the five finalists are selected from this pool.