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Top teacher: Keith garners Wal-Mart award

Last Thursday was a day made in heaven for one teacher and the principal at Thomson Middle School. Special Education Teacher Shirley Keith was surprised to be called out of her classroom and presented the Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year Award. Ms. Keith couldn't contain her excitement when she heard the news.

"You could not have picked a better day," Ms. Keith said to Cindy Nelson, the Thomson Wal-Mart Assistant Manager.

Ms. Nelson presented Ms. Keith with a $100 Wal-Mart gift card, a Teacher of the Year polo shirt and a personalized certificate. Ms. Keith said she had been having a rough day up until that moment. As she received her awards, her squeals of delight made other teachers poke their heads out classroom doors to see what was happening down the hall.

Ms. Nelson was worried the polo shirt was too large; but, Ms. Keith's happiness outshone the concern. She said she didn't care if it fit or not, she'd "wear it as a dress." The gift card required no thought, either.

"I can't wait to share it with the kids," Ms. Keith said of her students. "We are going to have a party."

The special ed class won't be the only ones partying. Ms. Nelson also presented Principal Claude Powell with a $1,000 grant check for the middle school.

"There is a good Lord after all," Mr. Powell said. "I needed money for teacher appreciation. This is National Teacher's Week, and I was looking for money to do something for my teachers."

Wal-Mart has honored local educators during National Teacher's Day in May since 1995. During the month of February, Wal-Mart stores accept ballots from local citizens nominating who they think should be the honored teacher. The ballot must describe the teacher's qualities or accomplishments that set them apart from others, and explain how they go above and beyond their normal expectations. The winner is selected by a committee of store associates.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have thought I'd get this," she said. "It means someone had to think of me outside of the school atmosphere. It's so, so exciting."

Working with special ed students has its challenges, Ms. Keith said, because they have to take the same Criterion Referenced Competency Tests as regular education students.

"But my kids can do it because we work our behinds off," she said.

In her 11 years of teaching at TMS, Mr. Powell said Ms. Keith has always set a high mark for her students, and they reach it.

"I can think of no teacher more deserving of this award than Shirley Keith because of her sincere love and dedication to an exceptional group of children," the principal said.

Ms. Keith is eligible to apply for the state level Wal-Mart TOTY by June 1. State winners are chosen by Phi Delta Kappa to receive a $10,000 grant for their school and qualify for the national competition.

Web posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007

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