Passing the torch

In this the year of the Olympics in my home country, it only seems befitting to be passing the torch myself to our next District Teacher Of The Year for 2012-2013, Nicole Schnibben.

I have had a most wonderful, exciting and nerve-racking year. This has been one of the most outstanding years of my career and one of the fastest. Never in my wildest would I have dreamed that my peers would elect me as a school Teacher Of the Year, which would then catapult me forward to become the District Teacher of the year and finish the year being one of five top Honor Roll teachers in the state of South Carolina!

As an educator you look for the rewards in the learning your students demonstrate because of you, some of these may occur daily, others may take a whole school year and/or longer to come to fruition. Winning hearts and flowers, accolades or titles are things you just do not consider when your goal is to raise up the students you teach. You teach because it is a passion, a calling within you and a love of learning instilled.

My charge is to all educators to deliver the best service you can to your students and parents, community and profession with the highest regard for yourself and the future.

We may not all earn publicly the accolades I have been fortunate enough to experience this year, but our greatest reward is in touching the life of a child who will take that flame you ignited and run with it all their lives because you were their teacher!

A star studded STOY Gala evening



Helen A. Walker
Doby’s Mill TOY 2010-2011
Kershaw County TOY 2011-2012
SC State Honor Roll TOY 2012-2013


Reflections of a school, district and South Carolina Honor Roll Teacher Of the Year

As a school and district Teacher Of the Year this year and as one of the South Carolina Honor Roll Teachers Of the Year, it has been an honor and a privilege and  I’ve learned so much.  I have learned that:

– I am a teacher leader, if I choose to be  even if I had previously never considered myself to be.

– That I represent more than myself, I represent my students, my profession, my subject area and more recently I have come to realize I represent two countries!!!

– I am not the best teacher but I am the fortunate one who represents a great many outstanding educators.

– A great many people see more potential within me than I have ever seen for myself!

– Not all students will magically behave because I am a Teacher Of the year!

– How much I truly love my students and my job because of the amount I have had to be away form them this year.

–  Time is a very precious commodity and one that should not be wasted, not even a second, time with our friends, family and loved ones, the opportunities we seize with the time we have, and especially the time we have with our students.

– I have learned the power of ONE!

We all fall prey to the feelings of doubt and wondering if we really are making a difference especially when there is so much negative media bias and political unrest, where we see one form of education pitted against another where in actual fact we should all be deciding how to work together for the good of the students!

I feel very fortunate to have been able to represent my school Doby’s Mill Elementary, my school district, my profession and my students at a local and state level. This has been one of the most outstanding years of my professional career, and added to this the thought that 1 in 10,000 teachers get the position I am in is amazing to me and very humbling.

When putting together my reflections I was thinking back to how I felt about all this last year and came to the conclusion that one of my TOY interview questions should have been; What is your energy level and can you sustain it!     That is one thing I have had to have this year more than anything, and it was not all about my teaching anymore.

All of the things you experience as a school level and district TOY and now as a South Carolina Honor Roll Teacher, are wonderful and unique and I wish every teacher could experience this in some small way, which is why we have a very active Teacher Forum and why we have District TOY blog to be able to share those experiences whether they be from:

  • Following the fat back queen and the lama’s in the Boykin Christmas parade with the emergency services right behind me that kept making me jump when they set off their sirens……….and seeing one of my former students Rosetta, who upon realizing it was me began running alongside the car…….. and shouting at the crowd I know her, she was my music teacher and blowing kisses, to the people I don’t even know that send me emails of congratulations. To the lady in the gym when I am at my best, blood sweat and tears wrestling with a machine twice the size of me and I’m not winning, tapping me on the shoulder and saying, you are our teacher of the year aren’t you, I saw your picture in the paper, thank you for all you do.

To my students that have called me Queen Walker all year long and in particular Chandler in 1st grade, and I know you have all had a Chandler, he is full of life and comments on everything and springs on his bottom!!! Who when we were in the keyboard lab earlier this year creating our own songs we singing at the top of his lungs, I love Ms Walker, I love ms walker, shes my music teacher.  And a million other experiences that I really should have been writing down, but there were too many to mention.

To do this job right you have to be committed to teaching students as a career and you need to have an unlimited amount of energy.

Our relationships as teachers with each other and particularly our students are vital, because we have an ability and we have a world of potential to create an incredible future!

More than ever we have to use our teachers voices, and yes Heather, our emotional one of Teacher Forum, you have a teacher voice within you because its not all about shear volume!!!

As TOY you have a golden opportunity to put that little bit of power to great use to uplift your students, colleagues, parent’s and profession…… your peers have deemed you worthy of this honor…….. it’s almost like, may the force be with you…. Choose how you are going to use it;

Are you going to carry on regardless of this honor?

Are going to bask in your glory and enjoy your new title?

Are you going to push the boundaries try new things, bring people in, get further involved, because that is part of our business too………public relations

Are you going to go above and beyond and stand out even further as a leader and show that our profession is one to be admired and revered?

In my humble opinion, you should seize this year and do a little bit of everything, if you can and are able.  Know when to wear your crown, but also know when to put it behind you! I have committed my life to teaching, my choice, my passion and I love every minute of it.

Enjoy your year, celebrate your profession, seize opportunities, you may never have another one like it and be proud of being a teacher, celebrate it at every possible opportunity and involve everyone you can because you have many people to thank for being where you are.

It was Winston Churchill who said  “ I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial”

We are in the hour and trial where our profession is being severely tested, you were meant to be here, now, and to make your mark, congratulations again, I have only love and respect for you all, and in true Olypmic tradition….. go team Great Britain….go team USA, it is my turn to pass the torch and light a fire of inspiration that continues to burn for education!!!


Induction Class and Beach Bash

Recently I accompanied Lori Cooper, last years district TOY to an afternoon meeting with the KCSD present Induction class. I always loving speaking with new teachers and at this point in the school year I could completely identify with their sleepy tired faces. Whether or not the induction teachers actually heard what Lori and I had to share I could not say, but hopefully they realized that we are very fortunate in Kershaw County to have such a strong support system for teachers. I wish the induction teachers a great end to their school year and a summer filled with energizing activities so that they are refreshed and ready for their next school year.

The Beach Bash, hosted by KCSD Teacher Forum took place yesterday, Friday, April 27, 2012. This is a super afternoon of celebration for all of our newly appointed school level TOY’s. I was very impressed with the energy level of all the educators present and the positive upbeat attitudes with which everyone came. The last quarter of the school year can be the most challenging, but it can also be the most rewarding.  Many congratulations  to all of our new school level TOY’s and our top five honor teachers, one of whom I will be passing the torch to on Monday, April, 30, 2012 when we have the KCSD TOY Gala and our new district TOY will be announced.

This has been one of the most incredible years of my career, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, but I have never felt that a school year has gone by faster.

On Tuesday, May 1, 2012 I will be honored along with all district level TOY’s in our great state at the State TOY Gala, I am excited, thrilled and a little nervous, but I take with me the knowledge that I represent more than myself, I represent my students, my profession, my subject area and in fact I represent two countries, and  most importantly I have many many people to thank for being where I am.

One of Winston Churchil’s quotes is resonating deep within me this weekend as I have been reflecting upon my year and thinking forward to what the next year will hold, and it is this.

“I feel as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial”

I have been very fortunate in experiencing the year I have had as district TOY in Kershaw County, I have grown as a teacher, a learner and a leader. I am excited about the next chapter of my career and where next year will go, no one knows, but I know, I am better for the experiences and that I will become an even better ambassador for my students, the arts and my profession.

WACH FOX and Bojangles

On March 28, 2012. I had the honor of being interviewed on live television as WACH FOX wanted to ask me about Teacher Of the Year and about being named a SC Honor Roll teacher one of the top 5 in our state. This was a fun and intriguing experience, and I think I was more excited about seeing what goes on behind the cameras in a television studio than anything. To be celebrated on live television by the station anchors was an incredible feeling, just to be appreciated for what I love to do everyday. Also in the segment was a piece about Bojangles who donate books to the district level TOY’s every year, that was pure fun and of course I had goodies to take back to school for the faculty and staff.

That afternoon I had the joy of attending the Bojangles official TOY celebration where we were presented with our books for our schools and what I loved more than anything was the opportunity to include my students in this celebration, after all without them I wouldn’t be here! My DME Choraliers took great delight in singing our special “Bojangles” arrangement of Carolina In The Morning, but I think it was a close tie with how much they enjoyed eating their Bojangles meals after they sang. Tony Birch from Bojangles was a super man to talk to and thoroughly enjoys this part of his job. Trip DuBard and Debbie Jones of SC Future Minds co sponsored the celebration and I owe a great deal of gratitude and thanks to them all for making us feel so special.


Lights, camera, action!!!

Life as school level TOY was a thrill, humbling and unexpected.

Life as a District TOY is all of the above but now you have the honor of representing your district, it consists of many meetings, networking with many other educators and stepping up as a teacher leader.

Life as a top 5 finalist for State TOY is far beyond anything I have ever imagined. I not only represent my school, district, students, subject and profession but am one of five educators representing 50,000 educators in the state of South Carolina, this is an immense responsibility and opportunity!

ETV Videoing

On Tuesday, March 13, 2012 a team of ETV professionals took over my classroom for half the day. This was very different, but very exciting. ETV interviewed my Principal, myself, students and other educators in my school as well as a couple of different lessons in my music room. This is very exciting for my students who wanted to know when they were coming back to do it again! This will be aired by ETV on Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 1:30p.m. along with the interviews of the other top 5 finalists.

Spring KCSD Teacher Forum meeting with special guest Patti Tate 2012 SC TOY

On Wednesday, March 14, 2012 I arrived at the historic Robert Mills Courthouse for what I thought was a regular TF meeting. Upon arrival forum members were greeting everyone in the carpark, which should have given me a clue. As I walked into the meeting room I was surprised to see our fabulous Forum members lined up to greet someone, I looked behind me to see if someone special was coming just as everyone cheered and showered me in confetti. This is was such a special treat and I was humbled to be met with such an incredible display of congratulations for my top 5 status, by such incredible educators, all as deserving of this treatment. We heard from Dr. Morgan and I gave an update from the Winter Workshop and then we were delighted to have an inspirational presentation from Patti Tate.

PSTA Convention

On Saturday, March 17, 2012 I was very honored to be an invited guest at the Palmetto State Teachers regional convention in Lexington. We were able to celebrate a milestone birthday for Kathy Maness and of course I started the sing along! We were given updates on current legislative information together with state and national information currently affecting the profession. This was a super informative day, again I was honored to be at the event and I together with one of the other top 5 finalists were celebrated by the association.

Strategic Planning meeting

On Wednesday, March 21, 2012 I was able to take part in the Fine Arts Centre strategic planning meeting with some incredible educators, business and community people from the local area. We discussed the arts and role the FAC plays in our local community and what we need to look to for the future. I was very happy to be an invited member and it once again showed the importance of the arts within the community and the arts education of students at all levels.

Interview Day

On Thursday, March 22, 2012 I awoke very early in order to ready myself for a whole day of interviewing at the State Department of Education. All top five finalists met with Barbara Turner and Patti Tate to talk and network and encourage each other as we all went in to interview separately with the team who would be deciding the SC State Teacher Of the Year for 2013. This was a nerve-wracking day, but in parts was also thrilling. Of course when I got the opportunity to talk about my students and a section of my lesson which had been videoed by ETV, that was my favorite part. CERRA treated us to a lovely luncheon and we heard inspirational messages from past State TOY’s. We also heard from Dr.Zais, who impressed upon us the importance of our role likening teachers to education as doctors are to medicine and pointing out that very few educators ever get to the level we have achieved in our profession.

Teaching Fellows

On Saturday, March 24, 2012 I had the pleasure of interviewing a selection of Teaching Fellows students, I was amazed to see the maturity and clarity of thought with which these future educators spoke on the subject of their own education and where they see the future of education in South Carolina. Marcela Wine-Snyder from CERRA gave very clear instructions on how to execute the interviews, but what I found out throughout the day was that we have a very bright future for education in our state. These outstanding young people who are about to embark on degree courses to become educators have very definite ideas, passion for the profession and their subjects, this was refreshing and inspiring!

The TOY journey continues…

Education Rocks!

On March 8, 2012 I had the pleasure of attending the Education Rocks event hosted by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. I joined other Teachers Of the Year from Kershaw county, and was very honored to be walking to stage with such outstanding educators. This event was a lovely evening treating teachers as honored guests.


Top five finalist for South Carolina State Teacher Of the Year

On Monday, March 5, 2012 at 4:14 p.m. I was standing in a car park ready to go into the consignment shop on Two Notch Road. As I got out of my car and locked up my phone rang showing an unknown Columbia number. Momentarily it flashed through my mind “Is this a call from the state department”? I answered and a male voice on the other end of the phone asked for me, when I responded that it was me, the voice introduced himself as Mic Zais Superintendent of Education with the South Carolina State Department. To which I responded “Oh”. I started to shake realizing that this was indeed my phone call and that out of 87 public education District Teachers Of the Year I was about to be one of the top five. It’s a good job my car was there as even though the rest of my conversation with Dr. Zais was much of a blur, I do remember needing suddenly to lean on my car and remember myself sliding down it at one point, but I managed to pull myself back together. As I heard Dr. Zais congratulate me for being an outstanding educator and announcing that I was indeed one of the top five and now in the running for the title South Carolina TOY, my world seemed to come to standstill for just a moment. I was also instructed to tell only my Principal and District Superintendent, but this was to remain clandestine until a public announcement was to be made the next day!

As an educator you do not think of the rewards and accolades or benefits of being a teacher you think of the opportunities you can bestow upon students. This time last year I was reveling in the fact that my colleagues had deemed me worthy of school level Teacher Of the Year, something any educator would be proud of. But now to be standing before my entire profession and the students I serve as one of the top five educators in the state is incredible to me.

I am honored, humbled, blessed and excited to be in this position, one I have never in my wildest dreams expected. It is amazing to be honored this way for the job that I love to do everyday.

I am deeply thankful for the lessons my students teach me each and everyday. I am thankful to my colleagues for their constant support, and I am very grateful to the start of wanting to be and educator more than anything and the support I gained from my Mom and Dad. Sadly my parents have been gone from my life for a number of years now, but they left behind a legacy of loving to learn and to reach beyond the ordinary. I truly believe we are exactly where we are meant to be in life and I couldn’t think of a more revered position to be in right now than the one I have been blessed with.

This has been an incredible journey and continues to be so, I have loved every minute of it!


Helen A.Walker