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Schools honor top teachers

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

As Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Katie McGee was reading a background and biography of the teacher chosen as the 2008 Teacher of the Year, tears began to form in Michelle Bennett’s eyes.

“I knew from the first couple of lines that she said; I just couldn’t believe she was talking about me,” Bennett said.

But McGee was. She was introducing the Shallotte Middle School teacher as the 2008 Brunswick County Teacher of the Year, the “best of the best,” McGee said.

Bennett has been teaching for six years. She formerly worked as a registrar for the North Carolina Maritime Museum. She majored in art history, but always knew she’d be a teacher one day; it runs in the family, Bennett said. Her mother, aunt, uncle and great-grandmother were all lifelong educators.

“This is unbelievable to me,” Bennett said after being honored. “It’s not the way I think of myself. I see myself going to work everyday trying to make a difference.”

Although she has the county’s highest honor a local teacher can receive, Bennett said the biggest reward is seeing her students overcome obstacles and gain self-confidence to succeed and achieve goals.

“We have to help every one of those children reach their potential,” she said.

Bennett’s main objective is to help students. She does not aspire to become a principal or administrator, and believes she can best help by being active in the classroom.

“I want to be with kids on a daily basis,” she said.

Bennett was chosen out of 17 teachers, all who have the honor of Teacher of the Year for each school in the district. The Brunswick County Teacher of the Year is chosen after a two-day interview and application process. A committee that includes a Brunswick County Association of Educators representative, the current Brunswick County Teacher of the Year, a community member, a parent or grandparent of a student, and a high school student, conducts the interviews and reviews all applications.

In addition to being named Brunswick County Teacher of the Year, Bennett received $2,500 from BB&T, and an all-inclusive weeklong getaway to Bald Head Island.

The committee also chose a first runner-up—Kathryn Pender, a fourth-grade teacher at Virginia Williamson Elementary School.

“I was just honored because I know the nomination came from my peers,” she said. “Everyone here is so phenomenal. That’s why they’re all teachers of the year.”

Pender has been teaching for 13 years, starting in Cumberland County and making her way to Brunswick County several years ago. She said more than teaching students the curriculum, she makes sure to teach them how to believe in themselves.

“They need to be proud of who they are,” she said. “If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.”