Kelly Flanders gathered her students in a circle to go over last-minute instructions. On the other side of the curtain was the performer's biggest fear -- a tough crowd. A thunderous horde of eighth-graders made their way into the auditorium.
The apprehension in her student's eyes didn't dissuade her from her task. She had prepared them for their first performance, and she knew they would come through.
Kelly Flanders (right) talks to one of her students about modifying a picture frame.
Jason B. Smith
The show went on without a hitch.
Thomson High School English and drama teacher Kelly Flanders had no idea at the time that she would soon be named McDuffie County Teacher of the year.
And last week she was presented with another piece of exciting news. She was informed that she was a semi-finalist in the State Teacher of the Year Competition in which 134 school systems submitted entries.
"I'm still struggling to get my mind around it," she said. "Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought that this would ever happen to me."
Mrs. Flanders, one of 10 semi-finalists from across Georgia, will receive a visit from a panel of six judges on Jan. 28. The judges will interview and observe Mrs. Flanders.
Several other sources will be included in the judges' decision. A video which was made for the county competition, as well as a statement of her philosophy of education will also be used to compare Mrs. Flanders to the other semi-finalists.
Five finalists and the winner will be announced during an awards ceremony in March. Until then, Mrs. Flanders remains surprised that she was chosen, even at the school level.
"I was humbled to be the teacher of the year at Thomson High School," she said. "Then I was a little more humbled because there's all these great teachers in McDuffie. I just can't believe it."
All 10 semi-finalists received accolades from across Georgia. Mrs. Flanders got praise not only in McDuffie County but from across the area because she was the only teacher in the region to make the semi-finals.
"Georgia has many wonderful teachers, but this special group represents the cream of the crop," said State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox in a press release from the Georgia Department of Education. "They are committed to helping every child learn, which pushes Georgia closer to leading the nation in improving student achievement."
Thomson High Principal Bill Reese said many factors played into Mrs. Flanders being chosen as a semi-finalist. One of the most noticeable to him is her ability to balance keeping students interested while staying in control of the classroom.
McDuffie County Teacher of the Year Kelly Flanders talks with several of her students about set-building.
Jason B. Smith
"It's a great honor for our school to have one of the ten semi-finalists chosen from throughout the state," Mr. Reese said. "She's very creative, very energetic, very pupil oriented, but at the same time is focused on making sure the kids do well academically."
The winner of the State Teacher of the Year Competition spends a full year on sabbatical.
During that time, the winner will conduct a speaking tour and act as an ambassador for Georgia's public schools. Mrs. Flanders finds that task intriguing.
"Honestly, I think it would be a blast," Mrs. Flanders said of the possibility of winning. "I would miss teaching terribly, but it wouldn't be forever. ... It would be kind of fun to go around and see how other people do things and bring a whole lot of wonderful ideas back to Thomson."