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CCU Atheneum: Amy's students threw her a surprise birthday party.
Amy's students threw her a surprise birthday party.

CCU alumna named SC Teacher of the Year

by Brian Druckenmiller
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Amy McAllister-Skinner walked the stage at the May 5 commencement ceremony with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, shaking hands with President David DeCenzo on completion of her master’s degree program at Coastal Carolina University. However, that may not have been her most significant accomplishment of the week.

On May 1, McAllister-Skinner marched down Lincoln Street in Columbia, joined by more than 80 other Palmetto State teachers who were nominated for the 2012-2013 S.C. Teacher of the Year award. The celebration continued into the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center where, to McAllister-Skinner’s surprise, she was presented with the award. She described the announcement as “surreal,” considering she has been teaching for only five years.

“I just sat there dumbfounded,” said McAllister-Skinner. “While I was already honored to be my school and district's Teacher of the Year and to be one of the top five finalists for state, I wasn't prepared to hear my name. It took about a week for it to sink in!”

McAllister-Skinner represented Johnsonville High School in Florence District 5, where she teaches 11th-grade English. She started as a student teacher while earning a bachelor’s degree from Francis Marion University in Florence, transitioning to a full-time faculty member after graduation. While teaching, she took classes at CCU to earn her master’s degree in education with a focus on literacy. Her interest in literacy came from her experience working with high school students who lacked reading skills simply due to disinterest.

“The master's program at Coastal really made me question why I was teaching literature that my students didn't enjoy and made me rethink what I wanted them to gain from reading,” said McAllister-Skinner. “Before I got serious about literacy and wanting to spread this love to my students, my love for reading wasn't something that came through in my teaching. I started talking to my students about what I was reading and what they were reading, and it just ignited.”

McAllister-Skinner refuses to take all the credit: she thanks her second-grade teacher, Pam Williamson, for encouraging her love of books; Wendy Calcutt, media specialist at Johnsonville High School, for getting students to read; and Kristi Squires, 10th-grade English teacher, for introducing students to the kind of literature they actually enjoy one school year before they step into McAllister-Skinner’s classroom.

Her success is not solely based on what happens in the classroom; McAllister-Skinner is present in her students’ personal lives as well, attending their ballgames, performances and other events outside of school, including emotional events such as funerals, surgeries and births. This is her way of telling her students that they aren’t just names on her roster, or “test scores” as she put it.

“I want them to know that their lives matter to me,” said McAllister-Skinner. “If my students don't believe I care about them, why would they ever care about what I'm trying to teach them?”

For Teacher of the Year honors, McAllister-Skinner received a $25,000 prize and a year lease on a new 2012 Alpine White BMW X3. She has also been named an ambassador for S.C. education for the 2012-2013 school year, and will take a year-long sabbatical from her teaching duties to visit schools across the state and promote positive teaching practices.

“Education receives a lot of negative media attention when really we are doing amazing things in South Carolina schools,” said McAllister-Skinner. “I want everyone to know that teachers and the students we teach should be celebrated.”

Although honored to represent the state and thrilled to leave her Impala in the garage for a year, McAllister-Skinner will miss her students terribly. She has agreed, however, to try to be at school on Tuesdays to talk about books with her students, an idea inspired by one of her favorite books: “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom.

With such honors so early in her career, McAllister-Skinner is an asset to S.C. education. She proves that teaching is not just a job, but the resilient desire to build the foundations of success.

“If education isn't something you're passionate about, and if you don't love kids with your whole heart, don't teach,” said McAllister-Skinner. “Teaching is not an easy job by any means. It is long hours and sleepless nights sometime, but it is the most rewarding job there is if your heart's in the right place.”

 

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