Upson Rotary Club honors Teachers of the Year

By Ashley Biles

April 3, 2014

If you ever take the time to think back on your school days, chances are you may not remember all the history, algebra or chemistry you had over the years; however, it is likely that you can remember who it was that taught you those subjects. It is often thought the best teachers are the ones who continue to inspire you long after you have left their classroom. The Thomaston-Upson Rotary Club set out to recognize these individuals through their annual Teacher of the Year Luncheon, where local teachers Kelly Batchelder of Southern Crescent Technical College and Pam McKinley of the Thomaston-Upson School System were honored.

Kelly Batchelder teaches English and Humanities at SCTC on both the Flint River and Griffin campuses. She was nominated by her peers and after an intensive interview process, was selected for the Rick Perkins Award for Excellence in Technical Education (i.e. Teacher of the Year) for 2014. Dr. Randall Peters, President of SCTC, praised her for being instrumental in not only improving the curriculum, but also forming a performing arts and literacy students club. He noted she has also stepped up to found a travel abroad program for the school. Last year she took a dozen students to London and Paris and this year she will be traveling with 22 students to Italy.

“I’m very proud of her courage to take that on,” said Peters. “Leading a group like that could be a daunting challenge, but she has certainly measured up to it.”

Batchelder stated the time she has spent abroad, both through the program and traveling on her own, has directly impacted the way she approaches the classroom because it helps her to make the subjects come alive.

“Students in my humanities and composition courses find that subjects they think would be left solely to textbooks and writing assignments actually take them on adventures,” she said. “When we paint pottery in my humanities class, my students learn how textiles have changed over time. And when we read controversial issues and articles, my composition students find they can relate to them personally because it speaks to generations of their families’ history.”

Batchelder feels she has a unique perspective on the technical college student because she gets to see students from every program area and she likes to highlight the diversity to those in her classroom. She noted that oftentimes she feels it is her mission to dispel preconceived ideas that her students may have about people and cultures that are different from them. It was her desire to do this that led her to volunteer to found the travel abroad program in 2012, which is not only the first program of its kind at SCTC, but also one of the few in the state.

“This program heralds students’ success and in turn gives them a global perspective in several ways. First of all it allows classroom discussions to truly come to life. Students in culinary arts can taste Italian and French cuisine first hand, inspiring ideas for their own creations. Secondly, it allows students to come in contact literally with people in cultures that are different from their own and I think that instills in them a sense of respect for those instances.”

She went onto say that whether it is through the travel abroad program or in one of her classes, students are able to gain a newfound global perspective which will help to make them more marketable employees, because they are going to foster an accepting and professional work environment.

“So I get the opportunity to broaden my students’ perspectives and make them a little more well rounded and that in turn, I think, creates a more productive and successful workforce.”

Pam McKinley is a second grade teacher at Upson-Lee South Elementary and has been in front of the classroom for nearly 26 years. Dr. Lasharon McLain, principal for Upson-Lee South, described her as someone who has a strong desire and commitment to being a life-long learner and has a passion for educating the young minds of our community.

“As principal, I have witnessed Mrs. McKinley in her second grade classroom as she incorporates effective strategy techniques to increase her student’s achievement and her students are excited to learn each day… She truly lives up to our school’s mission, which is teaching, learning and challenging every day. We are really proud to have Mrs. McKinley as our teacher and to have such a devoted teacher on our staff.”

Throughout her career, McKinley has been in charge of teaching children who are very young and she noted it is their enthusiasm to learn that motivates her each day. She stated she is often asked what her secret for creating a successful classroom is and for her it is following her motto of the three B’s: Belong, Believe and Become.

“Belong because I like to instill a sense of community in my classroom, so it will develop a student’s sense of belonging,” said McKinley, “because when they develop that they start to Believe. When they believe that they can lean, they can become successful. I get to witness that confidence that starts developing and that takes us to Become. This is when their personalities shine through, confidence is obvious and learning is evident. What a joy it is to witness a child belonging, believing and becoming.”

McKinley believes everyone has something to offer, no matter what their skill level might be and she uses that thought process to work with her students, encouraging them to find their nook in life.

“My message is let’s all agree everyone has something to offer and let’s empower all students to achieve their personal success.”

Rotary member Lisa Ellington closed out the meeting by thanking the ladies for all they do with the young minds of our community.

“Not only do we get the chance to thank you today for how much you really give to our community and to the future of our community in empowering these children, but it is really inspiring to us.”

Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1