Speechless and jubilant summed up Marcia Womble when State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman came to her classroom on March 10 to say that she was a finalist for South Carolina's 2018 Teacher of the Year (TOY).
Amid tears of joy and a huge banner spelling out CONGRATULATIONS, Womble, a Visual Arts teacher at Gray Court-Owings Elementary & Middle School in Laurens County, was named the fifth and last finalist for the prestigious annual award.
"It is an absolute honor to be a representative of all the wonderful teachers in our state," said Womble, a 1995 Lander graduate, and her first time as a TOY finalist. "Being a part of the TOY program at this level has been a valuable and life-changing experience for me."
Having taught art for 21 years, including 18 years at Hickory Tavern Elementary/Middle School in Laurens County, Womble has opened doors for her students by obtaining grants to purchase new art media and tools, and through a sponsorship for her annual Arts Day.
Part of her daily regimen, however, is to start each class by getting her students to tell her "something good."
"Building relationships with students is so important," she said, "and incorporating this simple sharing time at the beginning of my class has allowed me to learn things about my students that I may have never learned otherwise."
All 82 district teachers of the year participate in the state teacher of the year competition. A team of judges reviews each application and decides on the five finalists through a rigorous grading process.
Spearman said part of her reason for choosing Womble as a finalist was her commitment to giving her students "a well-rounded, arts-infused education."
"I am so proud of her devotion to arts education and look forward to her continued leadership," Spearman said.
Dr. Stephen Peters, Superintendent of Laurens County School District 55, added that Womble is "a great example of what today's students need."
"She is a great teacher who understands the importance of how to capture, inspire and teach all of her students in ways that they receive the greatest benefit," Peters said.
In addition to Womble, the other four state finalists include: Pam Flynn, Broome High School in Spartanburg County; Erin Fox, Gaffney High School in Cherokee County; Mary Woodward, North Vista Elementary in Florence; and Dr. Elisabeth Hardy, North Augusta High School in Aiken County.
Each finalist received $10,000 and will go on to the next stage of TOY competition, which involves an in-person interview with a team of expert judges.
The overall winner, who will be announced May 3 at the SCTOY Gala in Columbia, will receive a total of $25,000 and get to drive a new BMW for one year while advocating on behalf of the nearly 60,000 educators in South Carolina.
Regardless of who wins, Womble said the experience of being a finalist has been priceless.
"It has renewed my passion for teaching," she said, "and my desire to encourage others to join us in our schools on this journey."