It was the end of last school year and time for Kristen Karszes' 10th-grade students to take their exit exams.
Except one of her students had his head down on his desk, not writing his essay.
She knew he could write it, she had worked with him for the whole year so he'd be ready. So Karszes kept going over to his desk, encouraging him.
The he started to write, he wrote and wrote.
When Karszes looked at his essay after the students had left, what he wrote brought her to tears.
He wrote about her, about how she never gave up on him, how she believed in him and that he believed in her.
"There are certain moments that teachers live for, it's often something really small in the larger scope," Karszes said. "That was one of those moments."
And those are the moments Karszes, an English and language arts teacher at Hilton Head Island High School, hopes to share with other teachers as the Beaufort County Teacher of the Year.
Her selection was announced Friday at a breakfast celebration at the Callawassie Island clubhouse to honor teachers of the year from all the district's schools.
"Kristen exemplifies the concept of a strong teacher-leader," Superintendent Jeffrey Moss said. "Her students succeed because of her skill at engaging them and instilling them with confidence. She encourages, and she pushes, and she challenges them every day to do their best."
As recognition for her honor and efforts in the classroom -- and to travel throughout the district meeting with schools and teachers -- Karszes was given her choice of three new cars, donated by the Hilton Head Buick GMC Cadillac dealership.
She chose the Cadillac ATS over a Buick Verano and a BMC Terrain Denali SUV.
Karszes said she felt "blessed, overwhelmed and absolutely floored." She said she had reasons for why the four other finalists would win, but never expected her name would be called.
But her colleague and friend Mary Beth White, who introduced Karszes, said she was not surprised at all.
"She has a knack for connecting with the kids who don't like school and she motivates them to work and they do well," White said. "The district teacher of the year has to be the consummate instructor and leader to other teachers -- she is that."
"We don't have another teacher like her," White said.
Karszes has been a teacher at Hilton Head High since 2005. She chairs the English Professional Learning Community at the school and is the middle years coordinator for years four and five in the International Baccalaureate Program.
Prior to arriving, she taught at H.E. McCracken Middle School in Bluffton from 2004-2005. She taught at schools in Texas from 1994-2003.
She was chosen among five finalists. The other four were Emalee Baker, a kindergarten teacher at Red Cedar Elementary; Vicki Cathcart, a science teacher at Whale Branch Middle; Tonya Simmons, a Career and Technology Education teacher at Battery Creek High; and Eve Weaver, a second-grade teacher at St. Helena Elementary.
Karszes succeeds Erin Reichert, a social studies teacher from Bluffton High School, as the teacher of the year.
Karszes will now represent Beaufort County in the South Carolina State Teacher of the Year program. Finalists for that award will be announced in February. The current state teacher of the year, Darleen Sutton from Pickens County, gave the keynote address at Friday morning's celebration.
There has never been a state teacher of the year from Beaufort County since the program began in 1956. Karszes said she hopes to change that.
"We are doing really great things here in Beaufort County, and I get to be the voice for that, which I am really looking forward to," Karszes said. "I definitely believe that I am the lucky one, I get to go to school every day and teach these students."
How do you become Teacher of the Year?
It's a three-step process:
- It begins when school-level teachers of the year are selected in April. Those wishing to compete for the district honor submit applications by the end of July.
- A selection committee of parents, former educators and community leaders from across the county reviews the applications and rates the teachers using a numerical scoring system. The five with the highest scores are named as finalists.
- The finalists are interviewed by a separate review committee again composed of countywide judges. Those panelists also review a video of the teacher doing a classroom lesson. The judges then score the candidates and select the District Teacher of the Year in September.