Four Orangeburg County teachers have been honored as 2018’s “Outstanding Educators of the Year.”
The Rotary Club of Orangeburg-Morning and the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce presented the honor last week to:
• Elloree Elementary/Middle School seventh-grade teacher Keri Fersner of Orangeburg Consolidated School District 3.
• Hunter-Kinard-Tyler reading teacher Tanya Anderson of OCSD4.
• Brookdale Elementary School gifted and talented pull-out teacher Dr. Mary Williams of OCSD5.
• Orangeburg Preparatory Schools literature teacher Nicki Boland.
"Education is near and dear to our hearts," Chamber President Melinda Jackson told those gathered for the awards ceremony at Orangeburg's Cornerstone Community Church.
Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Dr. Tim Newman praised the teachers for the work they have done and continue to do.
"It is a calling," Newman said. "It is a calling to choose to educate our children, to change their lives and to help them be successful.
"It is not only a calling, but it is very hard work."
All four honorees said they love teaching and helping mold future generations.
Fersner said the honor is special.
She enjoys being able to influence children and provide them with options in life.
"I am all about options and giving kids different pathways to let them know, 'Hey, you can make it out of Orangeburg or you can make it out of Elloree ... and do great things and come back to help your community,’" she said.
Anderson said the award is humbling.
"I am humbled by the experience of so many people that want to give accolades to what we do, because a lot of times we are the unsung heroes," she said. "People don't realize how hard it is to be in that classroom and behind that desk."
OCSD5's Williams expressed her appreciation for the recognition.
"I am among the best of the best and to be granted the award is an awesome honor," she said.
Boland described the entire moment as surreal.
"Teaching is my life," Boland said. "I feel like being honored for teaching is a wonderful thing, but there are many, many other teachers who are wonderful and ought to be honored as well."
A native of Orangeburg, Fersner is a graduate of Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5.
She received a bachelor’s degree from Winthrop University. Fersner is in the Youth Development and Leadership Master’s Program at Clemson University.
Her love of teaching began at an early age. She says it’s due to her parents and grandmother, Hattie Anderson, who was a teacher in Elloree and one of the Elloree 21. Anderson was present to support Fersner at last week’s ceremony.
The Elloree 21 were the Elloree Training School teachers who quit their jobs rather than deny membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Fersner teaches seventh grade science and math, and Project Lead the Way courses at Elloree Elementary/Middle School. She is an advocate for STEM programming and opportunities for students there.
In her spare time, she serves as the Elloree Robotics Team Coach and teaches Zumba classes in the Santee area.
Fersner says teaching is a passion and is, “not just a job or paycheck.”
"When you have that passion and you come in every day with the mindset of regardless of what happens today I am influencing someone's life and someone's future career choice, if you keep that in perspective, it becomes a driving force,” she said.
A native of North, Anderson earned her bachelor’s degree at Benedict College. She’s in her 20th year of teaching.
Anderson said the thing she loves most about being a teacher is “the fact that I can change lives.”
"I get students that don't have a passion for a lot of things and they are very disgruntled about some stuff, especially as a reading teacher," she said. "If you can see a light come on and children gain passion for something they did not like, that makes you know you are doing a wonderful job."
Anderson said the real payoff can happen years down the road.
"All of this is nice, but when you have children that come back to you years later and say ‘I am doing this because of you,’ that is what it is about," Anderson said.
Newman, who is also the superintendent of OCSD4, praised Anderson.
"She has always been proactive," Newman said. "I get emails: Dr. Newman can we try this? Dr. Newman can we try that?"
"I never mind those emails because that is what teachers like Tanya ... are always bringing: ideas to the table," he said. "It makes my job a lot easier. I know you are serving well."
Dr. Mary Williams
Williams is a native of Shady Grove, a community between Bowman and St. George.
She was educated in Dorchester County School District Four and is a 1994 graduate of St. George High School.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Claflin University and master’s degrees from South Carolina State University and Lesley University. She also has an education specialist degree and a doctorate of education in instructional leadership, both from Argosy University Atlanta.
Williams has been teaching in OCSD5 for 16 years. She is a gifted and talented pull-out teacher serving students in first grade through fifth grade at Brookdale Elementary and Whittaker Elementary schools.
Williams says teachers should not be afraid, “to get on the level with the children.”
"It makes the experience a little different, because the children tend to respect you more being that you understand who they are," Williams said. "There is no limit to what we do in the classroom."
Williams said she incorporates dance, rap and songs in her lessons, which helps her students engage.
"It gives me pure bliss to see them happy and it gives me motivation to see them thrive because that is what we are here for," she said.
An Orangeburg native, Boland earned her bachelor’s degree at Columbia College.
A veteran teacher of 44 years, Boland has taught at Wade Hampton Academy, Orangeburg Prep and Calhoun Academy.
Boland teaches British literature and a survey course for eighth and ninth graders.
She had no desire to be a teacher when she graduated from college.
"I got the offer of a job that summer and I said well, I might as well do it," Boland said. "I have never done anything else because I was hooked. The children hooked me. I get such lifeblood from my students all the time and they keep me up, they keep me going, they give me new ideas about things. It keeps life very interesting."
In order to keep her students engaged, Boland says her classrooms go beyond just reading books.
"We act things out, we have focus groups, we have round-table discussions," she said. "We do a lot of writing, a lot of responses to things. Almost anything that I can come up with that will get them interested, I do."