Joke-loving Bluffton teacher named best educator in Beaufort Co.

Correction: A previous version of this article contained an incomplete list of the district’s 34 school-level teachers of the year. The article has been updated with the full list.

Michelle Gordon knew she was a finalist to be the Beaufort County School District’s teacher of the year, but she didn’t expect to actually win.

She stayed seated as superintendent Frank Rodriguez said her name. She clutched the flowers she’d gotten earlier as her table jumped to their feet to applaud.

She got up. She hugged her husband. And she cried.

It was a departure from the laughter she usually causes as a math teacher at Bluffton High School. Gordon is known to her students as a joker, but she takes her job seriously.

“My students think I’m funny and sometimes a little corny,” she wrote in her application for district teacher of the year, “but it captures their attention, and if I have their attention, then the door is open for the opportunity to learn. Goal accomplished!”

It’s a goal that her principal, Denise Donica, appreciates.

“She’s amazing,” Donica said. “She’s so passionate about what she does, and everybody in our building loves her.”

Gordon was named Bluffton High’s Teacher of the Year in April, and applied for district recognition in July. She was named a finalist alongside Vicki Shockley of Lady’s Island Middle School, Keisha Miller of Joseph Shanklin Elementary School, Jill Exley of M.C. Riley Elementary School and Denise Bell of Hilton Head Island Elementary School.

Now, she’ll represent the district at the state level. The South Carolina Teacher of the Year finalists will be named in February.

By the time Gordon gave a speech to the crowd of board of education members, principals and the 33 other teachers of the year for district schools, she was ready to be funny — and a little corny — again.

The award was humbling and surprising, she said.

“Even standing here, I think of a joke,” Gordon said. “What do you call a deer with no eyes?”

She leaned into the microphone.

“I have no eye deer. Get it? That’s how I feel that right now. I had no eye deer!”

2019-20 Teachers of the Year listed by school:

Battery Creek HighBeth Ann Melton
Beaufort Elementary Christene Johnson-Holmes
Beaufort High Wendy Lacombe
Beaufort Middle Rhonda McCauley
Beaufort/Jasper Academy for Career Excellence Raquel Bryan
Bluffton Elementary Rachel Gauvreau
Bluffton High Michelle Gordon**
Bluffton Middle Dr. Donna Floyd
Broad River Elementary Arriel Young
Coosa Elementary Cynthia Jeffrey
H. E. McCracken Middle Emily Rietveld
Hilton Head ECC Kimberly Bambeck
Hilton Head High Josh Wall
Hilton Head Elem. Denise Bell**
Hilton Head Middle DeAnna Campbell- Holmes
Hilton Head School for the Creative Arts Lyn Raichle
Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary Keisha Miller **
Lady’s Island Elementary Kwame Thornton
Lady’s Island Middle Vicki Shockley**
May River High Julie Collins
Michael C. Riley Elementary Jill Exley**
Mossy Oaks Elementary Amy Squires
Okatie Elementary Amanda Hogshead
Port Royal Elementary Corey Hollis
Pritchardville Elementary Deree Ward
Red Cedar Elementary Leanne Black
Right Choices Nancy Wolff
River Ridge Academy Kim Fields
Robert Smalls International AcademyAshley Holland
St. Helena Elementary Sharonda Coaxum
Whale Branch Early College HighFreda McCanick
Whale Branch Elementary Gerald Greene
Whale Branch Middle Karen Tooman
Adult Ed Jannie Mae Williams

**District Teacher of the Year Finalists

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.