Meet the teachers of the year in York, Chester, Lancaster counties

August 31, 2013 

Each year, every school in York, Chester and Lancaster counties names a “Teacher of the Year,” who then goes on to vie for the title of “District Teacher of the Year.” Meet the six district-level winners:

Rhonda Hudak

Rock Hill – Rawlinson Road Middle School

Hudak was born and raised in Rock Hill schools, and she has spent her entire teaching career in those schools. This year, she is teaching language arts at Rawlinson Road, where she works to get students engaged in reading.

“I love reading and exposing the children to the world that reading can open to them,” she said.

She became a teacher because of her teachers – at least one of whom she got to work with in her own professional career.

It just shows, she tells her students, you should be nice to people along the way.

No matter the changes in teaching methods or technology, Hudak said, she has big goals for her students every year. She wants them to leave her class with writing skills, a love of reading, the ability to succeed in the next school year – and a little something extra.

“I want them to know that they were cared for,” she said. “As a district, that’s our philosophy, we serve our kids.”

Rachel Southmayd

Lipi Pratt

Fort Mill – Elementary gifted and talented

“Everyone else calls them a nerd,” Pratt said of the gifted and talented students she spends her days teaching. “I tell them to own it.”

Pratt has been working with gifted and talented kids in several elementary schools in Fort Mill since 2001. After 20 years in teaching, she said, these are the kids she “gets” the most.

Research shows gifted and talented students need extra strategies in the classroom or they don’t stay engaged, Pratt said. In addition to teaching them, she tries to be an advocate for them and to help other teachers understand how to reach gifted and talented students.

“They don’t sound that different,” she said of her students, “but when you see them all together, it’s awesome.”

Gifted and talented students thrive on real-world issues and big concepts because it gives them something to ponder, she said. Gifted and talented students come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of behavior and personality characteristics.

Pratt was shocked, but delighted, when she was selected district teacher of the year.

“I was who I am and that seemed to be OK,” Pratt said, expressing a sentiment similar to what she always tells her students: “You be you.”

Rachel Southmayd

Laura Milem

York – York Comprehensive High School

Milem likes to say she has been a teacher since she was a child, when, as the oldest of five kids, she helped teach her siblings about life. After graduating from Winthrop and home-schooling her own children, she started teaching in the public school system.

When it became clear to her principal that the school needed a program to help students prepare for the state exit exam, he turned to Milem and gave her two weeks and a tiny budget and told her to figure it out.

Several decades later, she’s still helping students pass the exit exam every day – and there’s nothing like the day when those scores come in.

“It’s the most emotional day,” she said. “They cry, we cry, either for good or bad.”

Every semester and every group of students is different, she said of her exit exam prep course students.

“I tell them, I’m like a doctor,” she said. “I can prescribe what is needed from the last time you took the test.”

But, she said, the medicine she prescribes doesn’t work if the students don’t work at it. Usually, they do. Last year, only three seniors in all of York Comprehensive High School didn’t pass.

And Milem said she has no reason to leave her position, because she loves every day.

“I’ll probably die behind that desk,” she said.

Rachel Southmayd

Christy Wilson

Clover – Clover High School

The work of family and consumer science teacher Wilson is everywhere in her still new and shiny classroom at Clover High School. A skirt made of ties rests on a mannequin in one corner; posters about projects to assist those affected by drugs or teenage pregnancy sit under the board.

Wilson’s curriculum in her “Family Life,” fashion and family and consumer science core courses covers a lot of ground – from parenting to financial literacy to relationships.

“One of the greatest rewards is to have a student come back and tell me the things they’ve done or they’ve used that I taught them,” she said. “That becomes my motivation.

For the past 16 years, Wilson has been teaching these subjects, which she enjoys because they’re the things that encompass her talents.

The family and consumer science classes used to be called “home economics,” Wilson said, but the name changed in 1998, a necessary move to keep up with societal changes.

“Our curriculum was designed to fit the needs of our community,” she said.

Every student, she said, no matter what career they pursue, is going to need the skills she teaches every day.

“This class is where your core academics meet reality,” she said.

Rachel Southmayd

Angie Anderson

Chester – Chester High School

As a product of the Chester County school district, Anderson, who teaches English and classes about teaching at Chester High School, said she loves telling her students about her memories of growing up in Chester.

They might not have been alive when four mills were running around the clock or when iconic features of downtown Chester were going in, but she was, and she shares her memories with them just as she shares her love of reading and learning.

“You want to inspire your kids to be lifelong learners, lifelong readers,” said Anderson, who has been teaching for 30 years.

This semester, she’s teaching sophomore World Literature and a new class: Teaching Cadets. The course is for seniors who might want to pursue a career in education.

“It gives me a little something different,” she said. “I might be able to influence these kids who think they want to teach.”

Even her English curriculum is constantly changing, she said, to reflect whatever might be going on in the world. The classics are great, but she likes to mix in new titles, as well.

“I like the spice of life, and I want to be challenged with something new,” she said.

Rachel Southmayd

Richard Gay

Lancaster County – Lancaster High School

When Gay was named district teacher of the year, he asked the audience filled with Lancaster County teachers how many of them had been his students.

“And I mean, 100 or 200 of them stood up,” he said. “That was an emotional moment.”

This is Gay’s 38th year teaching and his 35th at Lancaster High School, where he teaches English and yearbook journalism. He said his former teachers and his parents inspired him to become a teacher.

“My parents did not have very much formal education but my mother loved to read and she instilled that in me,” Gay said.

He loves teaching because every day he gets to come in and talk to young people about Shakespeare and Tennyson, and to find new ways to introduce these older works to his students.

Seeing his students grow and develop as academics and as leaders is what makes his job rewarding.

“It makes you feel very good that you have had an impact on someone’s life,” he said. “It made a difference in their life on down the line.”

Rachel Southmayd

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