'I'm in shock:' Bluffton's Milken Educator Award winner reacts to 'Oscar of teaching'
Bluffton High School students voted Erin Reichert as the teacher they are most likely to accidentally refer to as mom.
The yearbook superlative speaks to how beloved the social studies teacher is among students, a reputation that put her in the spotlight Thursday morning when she received one of the most prestigious awards in education and $25,000 to use however she wants.
Reichert, 39, is the only Milken Educator Award winner from South Carolina for 2017-18 and among 44 winners nationally. A handful of educators in their early to mid-careers are selected annually for the Milken, which is also known as the “Oscar of teaching.”
Educators cannot apply for the Milken and don’t even know they are under consideration. State education departments confidentially identify potential candidates and send the “most exceptional” to the Milken Family Foundation for a final decision.
Inspired by a social studies teacher of her own, Reichert joined the field in 2000 and taught in her home state of Illinois at a south Chicago suburban district. She planned to stay there her entire career, but met a South Carolina man, married him and moved to Bluffton in 2007. She’s been a Bluffton High bobcat ever since.
“I kind of want everyone to know, but I also want it to be a secret that we are the best school,” she told the crowd.
Reichert’s day started much like any other Thursday. Before school, she met with students participating in Model United Nations, one of the extracurriculars she leads.
The bell rang at 8:45 a.m, signaling the start of first period.
For Reichert and about 20 students, that means Advanced Placement Seminar, a rigorous college-level research course offered for the first time this school year at a handful of schools statewide.
Plans for Thursday’s class, according to Reichert’s classroom whiteboard, included turning in annotated bibliographies, selecting sources and continuing research for the students’ papers.
Those plans were tabled for a 9 a.m. assembly in the gymnasium. Reichert had no idea the assembly’s purpose — to hear state superintendent of education Molly Spearman speak — was really a ruse to announce the award.
“What motivates me is you,” Reichert told the crowd. “When I see all of you achieving, it inspires and motivates me to keep working.”
What motivates me is you. When I see all of you achieving, it inspires and motivates me to keep working.
Erin Reichert, Bluffton High School social studies teacher
Bluffton High senior Desiree Bailey is among the hundreds of students who have been taught by Reichert through the years. She took U.S. history with Reichert last year and said she was uninvolved in after-school activities in her first three years at Bluffton High.
Reichert encouraged her to join Youth in Government, an after-school program Reichert started in 2007. The program teaches students about different levels of government by shadowing local officials, traveling to the State House in Columbia and planning mock elections and voter registration drives.
“She told me, ‘This is your time to shine,’ ” Bailey said.
Now, Bailey is student body president and she credits Reichert for inspiring her to get involved.
Bailey was one of a flock of students congratulating their “mom,” hugging Reichert after the assembly and snapping selfies.
It was 9:53 a.m., nearly an hour of AP Seminar lost because of the hoopla, when Reichert turned to her students. They had 27 minutes until the bell rang again.
“Let’s go back to class,” Reichert told them. “Back to work.”
- In 2012, Reichert was selected as the district’s Teacher of the Year.
- Most recently, the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution recognized Reichert as chapter winner of the Outstanding Teacher of American History Contest.
- Reichert is the second district teacher to receive a Milken award. Lady’s Island Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Debbie Stickle Smith received the award in 2004.