The morning after the Miss America Pageant, the newly-crowned winner probably gets to sleep in and recharge for a few weeks before working on a platform and scheduling speaking engagement for the upcoming year.
It didn’t quite happen that way for outgoing Beaufort County School District Teacher of the Year Cely Johnson.
After being recognized as the 2015-16 Teacher of the Year last September, Johnson didn’t allow much time for the honor to soak in before she began working on a speech for the State of the Schools Breakfast.
“My biggest responsibility and privilege is being a voice for the teachers at the state and local levels,” said Johnson, a fifth grade teacher at Beaufort Elementary.
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Of course, being given the title, as Johnson noted, “is its own perk.”
Others include: an option for a monetary prize or purchase of a vehicle at-cost from Hilton Head Automotive; boxes of donated books and dinner provisions from Bojangles; and a black-tie gala in Columbia the night before being recognized on the floor of the South Carolina House and Senate. She probably had to add a wall to her house just to hang the plaques and certificates she received from the state Department of Education, the Foundation for Academic Excellence and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, among others.
But with all the perks comes a lot more work.
Johnson served as vice-chairman and later chairman of the Beaufort County School District Teacher Forum and attended workshops at the state level, work that sometimes cut into an already busy schedule.
“At the beginning of last year, my class was curious as to why we were being videotaped and why I was absent for the various workshops and interviews.”
A byproduct of those workshops was becoming more familiar with local and state laws that affect learning.
“Many of us do not like the political side of education, but it is a necessity in this day and age that we, at the very least, continue to be knowledgeable of the changes being made which affect our profession,” she said.
While she also got out on the obligatory speaking circuit, she never developed a stump speech.
“Each group I spoke to wanted to hear something different,” said Johnson. “However, at every engagement I spoke from and about my experiences and about the importance of everyone in the community working together for the educational interests of our students.”
It’s a theme she has developed over the course of her life. She knows the community because she’s a product of it. In addition to her current position, she has taught at Lady’s Island Middle School, Lady’s Island Elementary and Shell Point Elementary. She’s also a proud alum of Beaufort High School, Lady’s Island Junior High (now Middle), and Mossy Oaks Elementary.
Her wisdom has thus been accumulated locally, and some of those nuggets include advice for other teachers:
- Teaching is the most challenging work you will ever do, but a child’s smile upon learning a difficult skill is worth it.
- You’re in the most noble profession – there’s not much more that can be said about influencing the future by impacting the life of a child.
- Keep (or develop) your sense of humor and stay positive.
- Take time for yourself. It’s the only way to continue meeting the challenges encountered in the classroom.
As for Johnson, her days as reigning Teacher of the Year may be over, but the work she did over the past 12 months in that role have certainly added confidence to an obviously already-effective teacher.
Her successor is likely to find that following a homegrown talent like Johnson will not be easy.
Heavy lies the crown.
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.