When her name was called, Bluffton High School teacher Erin Reichert was speechless -- a particularly unusual feeling for her, since she stresses public-speaking to her social studies students.
On the drive to Callawassie Island's Club Friday morning, Reichert said she wondered if she should have prepared more. She hadn't because she figured she had no chance of being named Beaufort County School District's teacher of the year.
She was wrong.
"The two things I said to my husband this morning is that I wish I wasn't so nervous, and I hope I don't cry if I win," she said through some tears moments after the announcement. "I'm humbled and honored."
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Reichert has taught Advanced Placement U.S. History, sociology and a Youth in Government course she helped create at Bluffton High since 2007. She said her passion for civics and social studies drew her to the profession.
The Youth in Government class is her favorite to teach. She started a chapter of the national YMCA program, which teaches students about all levels of government. They shadow Bluffton town officials in the spring, travel to the Statehouse in Columbia in the fall, and plan mock elections and voter-registration drives at the school.
Reichert said connecting with her students is her favorite part of teaching. She keeps in touch with former students, some of whom have gone into politics.
"She pushes them to be better people, not just better students," said fellow Bluffton High teacher Jessica Phillips. "The kids love her."
Phillips said Reichert is always mentioned when the teacher cadets Phillips works with discuss what makes a great teacher.
"Kids know when they walk in her classroom that she's amazing," Phillips said.
Reichert was one of five finalists for the teacher of the year award. The others were Holly Lambert of Beaufort Middle School, Jennifer Weitekamper of Hilton Head Island High School, Amy Fallon of Port Royal Elementary School and Angela Stewart of Whale Branch Middle School.
Teacher-of-the-year selection began in May with the announcement of school-level teachers. A panel then determined the district finalists, who were further vetted through interviews and a video showing them teaching.
As in past years, the honor comes with a new car. Reichert was presented with a white 2013 BMW 328i, lent by Tom Ditzig of Hilton Head Automotive-BMW, to drive free of charge for a year. Reichert joked that she's not sure her 3-year-old daughter will be allowed to ride in the new car, but she was thrilled to have it.
She will also lead the district's Teacher Forum for a year. The group provides input on district policy makers.
Reichert next will compete for state teacher of the year.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.