Lancaster County teachers Celebrate Great Teaching

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Reece Murphy
If the Celebration of Great Teaching event on Tuesday, Aug. 14, is any indicator, this is going to be a great year for Lancaster County School District and its teachers.

Though always a great celebration of the excellence district educators embody, this year’s event, with its theme “Ready for the Ride,” was bigger and better than ever before, an event that at times seemed as much a pep rally as a gathering of teachers.

In a sight many students would have paid to see, rowdy district educators filled the Lancaster High School gymnasium’s bleachers, many of them dressed in the funky costumes they wore for the filming of a “lip dub” video before the event started.

Produced by LearnTV and LHS student interns Corey Hudson and Alyia Byrd, the video tracked the district’s principals as they lip-synched their way through the school, capturing the celebration – and nearly all the district’s educators and support staff –  along the way.

Indian Land Elementary School Assistant Principal Steven Puckett, who went all out and dressed up as Batman.

“I think it was fantastic – anything you can do to build momentum going into a new school year,” Puckett said of why he chose the costume. “Energy is contagious; enthusiasm is contagious; all you need is one person to be a catalyst and it spreads.”

In kicking off the event, LCSD Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore welcomed the teachers and staff back for another year, saying he enjoyed the renewal of the summer, but loved the feeling of starting a new school year even more.

“Isn’t it great to return to a profession where you know everything you do and everything you say can – and probably will – make a significant difference in a life?” he asked.

As is the custom, the district presented awards to the best overall district teacher, best new teacher and best high school, middle school and elementary school teachers.

This year’s winners were chosen from a field of 200 nominees by a committee of community volunteers, school board business partners, last year’s award recipients and district instructional specialists.

Each winner received a Bob Doster trophy and $500 for use in their classrooms.
This year’s District Celebrate Great Teaching Award and Elementary School Celebrate Great Teaching Award winner was Indian Land Elementary fifth-grade English and social studies teacher Jason Weiss.
In presenting the award, Moore said it was Weiss’ unique approach to teaching that makes him such an effective teacher.

“’He’s enthusiastic and finds unique ways to involve the students in learning,’” Moore said, quoting Weiss’ co-workers who nominated him.

“The students feel like they are a part of history.”

For example, he has students create barricades to simulate life in trenches during war times.
“’He keeps everyone engaged,’” Moore said. “’Students participate in discussion and dialogue.
They don’t simply restate a fact, but give reasons why.’ (This) describes a teacher who has high expectations for his students, and they don’t let him down.”

The biggest surprise came when Moore announced that for the first time, the District Celebrate Great Teaching Award-winner would receive more than just the title and an additional $500 cash – they’d also win the use of a car for the year.

The lime-colored Ford Focus was provided by Robert Burns of Burns Ford in Lancaster.

“I can’t believe it; I don’t win things,” Weiss said. “It hasn’t settled in yet, but I’m honored because I work with some great teachers.”

This year’s other winners were:

  •  Beginning Celebrate Great Teaching Award: South Middle School art teacher Meredith Hill. Hill has been with the district for a year and a half.
    “It’s an honor to be recognized,” Hill said. “But regardless of whether you’re recognized or not, you get that kind of gratification every day teaching.”
  • u High School Celebrate Great Teaching Award: Indian Land High School construction teacher Mark Bonda.
    “It’s a great feeling,” Bonda said of being nominated by his peers at ILHS. “They’ve been there when I needed it and helped me become a better teacher. They’re a great group to work with.”
  • Middle School Celebrate Great Teaching Award: Sixth-grade history and geography teacher Adrian Deese. Deese, who will be teaching at A.R. Rucker Middle this year, was nominated last school year by the staff of South Middle School, where she taught language arts.
    “It’s exciting,” Deese said of the recognition. “This is my passion and something I love. I love children and it’s amazing to have a job where you get to go in and live out what you love to do every day.”

In addition to the district’s award winners, the educators also had a moment of silence to honor co-workers who passed away last school year: Heath Springs Elementary fourth-grade teacher Pam White, Andrew Jackson High School teacher and coach Chad Faulkenberry and Indian Land teacher and coach Mike Kersey.

Thomas: teachers make lasting impact

Carrying on a tradition in which the previous year’s district award winner delivers the Celebrate Great Teaching keynote address, South Middle science teacher Justin Thomas told his fellow educators about how teachers affected his life.

Thomas, an NBC meteorologist before becoming a teacher with LCSD, said his second-grade teacher realized his potential long before he did and chose to encourage him – nicely – to stay focused, try harder and make better grades.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Thomas said, was a seventh-grade teacher who was “probably the meanest teacher” he’d ever had. He said while the “deep, dark cloud” of oppression in her class and her attitude toward him didn’t affect his by-then deep love of science, it did affect his performance in her class.

“But can you imagine how it might have affected a student who was on the fence?” Thomas asked. “She could have handled it differently, but she didn’t and she lost me.”

In high school, Thomas said he had an excellent English teacher who inspired “a math/science guy” like himself to understand and enjoy poetry by using lyrics from the heavy metal band Metallica. Thomas said his teacher also engaged and inspired him through a shared love of baseball – and their respective N.Y. Mets/Yankees rivalry.

With that, he related how the teachers later affected his dealings with a troubled student and drew on anecdotes to make his point in closing.

“You chose, I chose, to be a teacher,” Thomas said. “When you wake up and go in to that classroom, you’re going to affect lives like you never imagined, just by smiling, just by being kind.
“Those kinds of choices dictate how that child will do,” he said. “To the world, you may be one person, but to one child, you could be the world.”

Moore said over the years he’s attended many opening school district meetings, but has never been to one quite like this year’s Celebrate Great Teaching.

“In all my years in education, this was the best opening meeting I’ve been in, and I think the lip dub and Justin Thomas’ inspiring speech played big roles in that,” Moore said.
“The excitement, enthusiasm and energy of the teachers and staff was incredible, and I know it will spill over to students as we begin this school year.”

To see the lip dub video LCSD teachers, staff and administrators made, visit www.youtube.com and search LCSD Opening of School LIPDUB 2012 (South Carolina).

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151