Oklahoma City — Elizabeth Smith, a reading teacher at Byng Junior High, was named the 2011 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year at an annual event coordinated by State Superintendent Sandy Garrett and her staff, and held at the Oklahoma State Fair.
"It’s been since the 1970s since Pontotoc County had a Teacher of the Year,” Bill Nelson, Byng Public Schools director of personell/curriculum, said.
"Elizabeth will be an ambassador. They’ll pull her out of the classroom for an entire year now and have her out on the road representing Oklahoma teachers all over the country.”
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Smith is the first teacher from Byng to be named state Teacher of the Year and second in Pontotoc County.
Pat Kellogg Roller, Ada, received the honor in 1978.
Garrett made the announcement after an independent panel of state business and civic leaders selected Smith among a field of 12 finalists.
The state-level competition included individual and group interviews, a written portfolio, and personal videos showcasing each finalist’s teaching strategies.
Smith has taught at Byng Junior High for nine years and has 17 years experience in education. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from East Central University in Ada and also serves as a basketball coach.
"Teaching is not just a job for me; it’s a calling,” Smith said, indicating that today’s teacher needs to be highly organized, skilled in classroom management, and passionate about forming relationships with students that allow him or her to identify each student’s unique needs and academic motivations. "When they know that you’re in their corner, they’ll do anything for you.”
Garrett praised Smith’s selection, but said that all of the 12 finalists were impressive candidates and any one of them would have made an impressive 2011 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
"All of the finalists are the highest caliber of educators, and this year’s judges would be the first to say that choosing just one is far from an easy task,” said Garrett, adding this year’s ceremony was bittersweet for her. Because she is not seeking reelection, the ceremony was her 20th and last opportunity to announce the winner of the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
"When I took office, the highest teaching honor in this state was little more than a handshake and a certificate,” Garrett said. "So I’m very proud we’ve elevated it to the nation’s No. 1 teacher of the year program by building partnerships with progressive businesses and organizations committed to quality education.”
Smith will now represent Oklahoma in the national Teacher of the Year competition.
Sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers, ING Foundation and Target, the national competition will yield four finalists later this year, with a winner to be announced by the White House in spring 2011.