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COLUMN: Teacher of the year: Why me?

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By Vanessa Tyson

Each year Chesterfield County teachers select a “Teacher of the Year” at their school. 

It is a great accomplishment. It shows your peers consider you to be a teacher who has exemplified all, or most of, the characteristics of an exceptional teacher.

When I was selected Teacher of the Year at Ruby Elementary in 2002, I wondered, “Why me?”

I had so many mixed emotions when I got the news – humbleness, apprehension and doubt. I even tried to force myself to feel a little happiness.

There had to be other teachers at the school who were more qualified than me, I thought.

I knew each year that my fifth graders loved me. I tried to connect with them in the classroom and I tried to make learning fun.

I wanted them to look forward to coming to school. I thought it was important to let them see that I loved teaching. 

I tried to transfer that enthusiasm to them.

Being named Teacher of the Year for my school was certainly out of my comfort zone.

I shed a few tears that day. They weren’t tears of joy. I felt so undeserving of the honor.

However, my outlook changed that day with a simple visit. 

Amy Wallace, a teacher from the primary building, stopped at my classroom door. I was writing on my dry erase board. From my recollection, there were no students in the classroom.

“I am so glad you won Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Tyson,” she said.

The sincerity of her comment cheered me up, especially since she was a teacher whom I did not interact with routinely.

Then I realized that, even though not all of the teachers had voted for me, I had received a majority of the votes. 

They had to have seen certain qualities in me.

Chesterfield County Probate Judge Gail Ingram, a retired teacher, shared similar feelings about being elected Teacher of the Year for Cheraw High School in 1996.

“I was so moved by my colleagues' high regard for me and my teaching,” Ingram said. The high regard also earned her the school district’s Teacher of the Year. 

“My name was announced at a banquet held at the Maranatha Family Center,” Ingram said of the District Teacher of the Year honor.  “I was truly shocked because the group of school Teachers of the Year that year was so outstanding.”

Roger Williams, who retired as principal of Petersburg Elementary after 19 years, said the ability to interact with the children is the best quality a Teacher of the Year should have.

“The more interaction the teacher has with the kids, the more apt they will be to learn,” Williams said. 

He said teachers should not just stand before children in the classroom and lecture them.  

Interaction should take place in other settings such as the lunchroom, the playground, the gym and even away from school, he said.

Ormoro King, principal at Jefferson Elementary, said, “What sets the Teacher of the Year apart from everyone else is everyone else feeds off of their energy and passion for teaching.  

“When you are in their presence, you just want to stay there and learn as much as you can from them because they make learning fun.  Great teachers exude enthusiasm and care for their students and co-workers.  

“They set high expectations for ALL students regardless.  Quoting from an unknown source, "a great teacher makes classroom magic happen regularly by engaging the students’ minds".