One event I did not include in my blog posts, which put into motion all of the other experiences that have happened over the past eight months, was being named the Berkeley County Teacher of the Year. It gets lost in the shuffle of all the excitement and travel that has come with representing West Virginia that first I was selected to represent all the teachers in my county, the same school district I graduated from as a student.
I had been a finalist in 2011. All I wanted was to do better than last time. Speaking and interviewing is something that I have worked at to improve, because I didn't want it to hold me back or embarrass me ever again. I left the room after my interview not feeling defeated. Mission accomplished. Maybe in four or five years, I could "fix" myself enough to be selected for such an honor.
I've learned that, when something big is about to happen, nobody talks to you. Everyone tries to avoid you, because they know something and don't want to give it away. Looking back, I should have known something was up. I was getting ready to go to Germany with the Transatlantic Outreach Program in a few weeks, so that's where I was focusing my attention.
When I walked in Hedgesville High School for the reception that Monday evening, I knew something was up. I could feel it, along with the photographer taking lots of pictures of me and my family. My teacher friends were there. My former principal, who had recently retired, was there. Before I walked in the auditorium, I knew. No one had to say anything. And it was overwhelming.
|With last year's finalist and teacher of the year|
You have to know how far I've come to know why something like this, for me, was a monumental accomplishment. Ten years ago, I was so crippled with panic attacks I couldn't drive a car. Getting through the school day took every ounce of my energy. I witnessed a fatal car accident on I-81 at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year that sent my battle with anxiety into a tailspin. I was hopeful, with Tomahawk only being 10 minutes from my home, that I would be able to make my way to school each day.
|With board member Darin Gilpin and principal Beth McCoy|
I wanted to function, to be adequate, to not be ashamed of myself. I desperately wanted to be able to get through an entire school day. Maybe I wasn't meant to be a teacher after all, but I was wanted to give it one more year.
Slowly, things changed. Because I landed at Tomahawk, the right people and opportunities came into my life. I never saw myself as polished or the best in any way. There are teachers I work with that are more pulled together than I could ever be. But I wanted to do things, create things, for children. My aunt was a first grade teacher for 37 years. She impacted the lives of hundreds of children and their families. Dawn rose from an upbringing in poverty to become a college graduate and an incredible influence on others. I hoped to be a fraction of that person. Dawn overcame her obstacles, and I wanted to conquer mine.
|With board president William Queen and Superintendent Manny Arvon|
Just getting to that point last year had been a long journey, and it was there I expected it to end. It was pure joy to be recognized for my accomplishments in the classroom. There couldn't possibly be anything that would top that night, and I was looking forward to a school year where I could share this honor with my classroom and school.
|With instructional specialist Ernie Dotson|
|With the other finalists|
I had no inkling by the end of the year my classroom would be the state of West Virginia. So much has transpired that last June feels like 10 years ago. Only I know it hasn't been that long, because 10 years ago I was a very broken soul.
|The first of many interviews|
|With my parents|
In five days, the new teacher of the year for Berkeley County will be named. Everyone has a different story for what led them to become a teacher. I choose to share my personal struggles and journey because I know someone out there - be it a student, teacher, or anyone feeling defeated - needs to know that it's possible to pick yourself up, that the right people exist to lift you up and out of your situation. Today is not forever. There is hope and peace in choosing faith over fear, and most importantly, there can be joy in the journey.
|With former principal John Spataro, Katie Miller, Heather McCain, and Beth McCoy|