Six McDuffie County schoolteachers are nominees for the award that designates them as the school system’s Teacher of the Year.
Each of the schools named a teacher of the year as a school system nominee to be named top teacher for 2021. The nominees are: Bliss Hawkins, a pre-K teacher at Dearing Elementary School; Shanda Hunt, a Georgia history and English Language Arts instructor at Thomson-McDuffie School; Pamesha Ivey, a social studies and reading/English Arts teacher at R.L. Norris Elementary School; Beth Shedd, a special education teacher at Maxwell Elementary School; Shannan Smith, a special education instructor at Thomson Elementary School; and Ashley Wyatt, a Business & Computer Science teacher at Thomson High.
The McDuffie County School District’s 2021 Teacher of the Year will be named Oct. 28 during a ceremony at Thomson High School. The winner will be placed in a pool of finalists from across the state to be crowned 2021 Georgia Teacher of the Year.
The McDuffie County Teacher of the Year will have responsibilities that include public engagement appearances, meetings, making public service announcements, serving on various advisory committees and making a commitment to honor the professional learning opportunities afforded as a result of being named system teacher of the year.
Life has been circular for Bliss Hawkins. She attended Dearing Elementary School as a child and completed her student teaching in the classroom where she currently teaches.
Hawkins is in her 12th year of teaching in McDuffie County schools. She has been at Dearing Elementary since 2013 and has taught pre-K for seven years.
“Watching my students grow” is Hawkins’ favorite thing about being a teacher. Some students enter her classroom at three years old and she witnesses their physical, social and cognitive growth. “Seeing the light bulb moments when they understand something that we have been working on or watching the progression of their ability to write and some even read,” is her favorite thing about teaching. “I love to see the excitement and how proud they are of themselves when they reach a goal.”
A teaching career was not on Hawkins’ radar when she began college. She aspired to become an interior designer and turn her passion into making places new. It wasn’t until she paid attention to the games and innovative lessons her college roommate was creating for her classes that her interest was peaked.
“I enjoyed giving her a helping hand and hearing about her lab experiences. After several semesters, I started to be interested in early childhood education,” Hawkins wrote in her biography. Hawkins ignored the suggestions that she would be a great teacher. “Now, 14 years later I help to ‘design’ young minds and ‘style’ my classroom. And I am so thankful for my change in career choice.”
When Hawkins is away from the classroom, she is involved with family activities and in the children’s ministry at Kiokee Baptist Church.
Educating young minds about Georgia’s history and teaching English and Language Arts to eighth graders is the role Shanda Hunt plays at Thomson-McDuffie Middle School.
Hunt began her teaching career in McDuffie County four years ago as a seventh grade English and social studies instructor. Watching the Aha moments students have when learning something new is what she most likes about being a teacher.
“I love the aha moments students have when they finally understand a new concept. I enjoy planning creative lessons that help the students master the standards,” she wrote in her biographical statement.
Hunt stated that she also receives joy from the happiness of others. “I have a God given gift to see the good in all people despite what they have done.”
Substitute teaching and being a paraprofessional in the Warren County School System was the foundation for the five-year teaching career of Pamesha Ivey. She is a fourth grade social studies, reading/English Language Arts teacher at R.L. Norris Elementary School.
Teaching was not Ivey’s initial career path. She majored in computer information systems. “I never imagined myself becoming a teacher,” she wrote in her biographical statements. She has learned that working with young people is different and rewarding. “What I enjoy most about being a teacher is the experience of learning together with my students. It is that moment when something they’ve struggled with is finally mastered and I know that I made a difference,” she wrote. “It is about being able to serve, to teach life lessons, and to mentor students that look to me for guidance and safety. I care, support, and love the kids I work with and because of these experiences, I’ve realized my calling.”
Being a good teacher involves building relationships with students and showing interest in them, she noted. “When they know that you are genuine, the capabilities and possibilities of what they can do and become is endless.”
Outside of the classroom, Ivey mentors young ladies and speaks to various groups. With her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and she is heavily involved in community service projects throughout the CSRA.
The ability to make a difference in the lives of students is what Beth Shedd most likes about being a teacher. She has been a special education teacher for seven years and currently teaches in the 3-year-old, Significant Development Delay classroom at Maxwell Elementary School.
“My favorite thing about teaching is being able to make a difference in the lives of my students each and every day,” she wrote in her biographical statement. “Being able to witness the progress and successes of my students makes teaching a true honor for me.”
Shedd’s desire to make a difference spills outside the classroom and into the foster care system. She serves as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. “I advocate for children that are in foster care to ensure that they, too, have a voice,” she wrote.
Her advocacy allows her to also put her Sociology and Criminal Justice degree, which she earned in 2010, to work for children.
Shannan Smith is also a special education teacher. She serves second through fifth grade students in a self-contained setting at Thomson Elementary School.
A teacher for 18 years, Smith wrote that building relationships with students and their families is what she most likes about being a teacher. “Watching my students continue to grow and develop after leaving my classroom warms my heart! I love keeping in touch with former students and seeing all of their accomplishments! I enjoy being a resource for parents and families and helping to advocate for the needs of all children.”
After years putting into practice the learnings from a bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation, followed by completing course work for a master’s degree in special education, Smith turned her attention toward behavior management. At Thomson Elementary School, she is also part of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support team and serves as a mentor for several students.
Alongside her family, she works with All Abilities Soccer Camp, an adapted soccer camp for children with disabilities and their siblings, which was founded by daughter.
Ashley Wyatt has taught different aspects and areas of business and computer science for 12 years at Thomson High School. She is currently teaching Accelerated Economics, Financial Literacy, Business & Technology. In the next semester, she will teach Business Communication, Introduction to Business & Technology and AP Microeconomics.
“My favorite thing about being a teacher is having the opportunity to help my students make the connection between the classroom and the world beyond high school,” Wyatt wrote in her biographical statement. “Helping them make career decisions based on the passions they have discovered within themselves is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job as a classroom teacher.”
Wyatt is giving back to students in her role as an FBLA advisor. She graduated from THS in 2002 and was a officer in the same chapter she now advises. In that role, she is able to expose students to a different world. “I am able to help expose my students to a whole different world and the excitement shown by our students in these experiences is one that words cannot describe,” she wrote. Wyatt recently completed a completed a three-year term on the Georgia FBLA Board of Directors and is enrolled at Augusta University where she is pursuing a second Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership.