Although chosen above the rest, she considered herself surrounded by greatness. The six McDuffie County schools' Teachers of the Year were honored Monday evening at a special banquet. Melissa Welch was named the 2009 McDuffie County Teacher of the Year.
Even before the top teacher was announced, Mrs. Welch was recognizing many others in the profession at the banquet, including those in the audience.
"It is an honor to be Teacher of the Year, but we are all Teachers of the Year," she said. "The first thing I felt was a complete sense of unworthiness, because I am surrounded by so many that are more fitting than I am. ... I don't think there was any competitiveness between us. At least I never felt that way."
In his welcome speech, Board of Education member Rick McCorkle said he noticed the Teachers of the Year had one thing in common.
"They don't have their own agendas," he said. "It's all about loving the kids and loving what they do. ... We want to thank them. ... and honor them."
The other Teachers of the Year for each school are: Jessie Morlan of Thomson High, Peggy Carter of Dearing Elementary, Khrista Kent of Norris Elementary, Patricia Connor of Thomson Middle and Leigh Smith of Thomson Elementary.
Mrs. Welch was given the award in front of approximately 150 of her colleagues, their families and school system administrators during the annual banquet at Belle Meade Country Club. The Georgia Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education, and recognizes outstanding public school teachers.
"When I was a teacher, I always wanted to be one of you, but I guess I never cut the mustard," quipped McDuffie Assistant Superintendent Barry O'Neill. "So I am jealous. Not that I didn't get where you are, but that I'm not a teacher. You are the infantry. You work where the rubber meets the road. You're the ones getting the job done."
Mrs. Welch has been a teacher getting the job done for 11 years. She teaches kindergarten at Maxwell Elementary, where she just made history as that school's first county Teacher of the Year.
"Every day in Mrs. Welch's class, kindergarten becomes a magical journey for five year olds who are establishing their own lifetime love of learning. She inspires and motivates all of her students," said Maxwell Elementary Principal Mychele Rhodes.
Married to Jeff for 20 years, and with three children, Elizabeth, Hannah and Jesse, Mrs. Welch is experienced in the school system both as a teacher and a parent. Last year, she took a brief break in her career to home school her youngest child, whom she felt was getting behind in his academics. But midway through the year, she and Jesse both felt led to return to the classroom. Mrs. Welch publicly thanked Thomson Middle School, and it's Teacher of the Year, Patricia Connor, "because Jesse is flying high, now."
"I genuinely believe we must build meaningful and lasting friendships with our parents," Mrs. Welch wrote in her application essay. "With (the parents') support and confidence in our schools, we stand a greater chance at succeeding with our students both academically as well as behaviorally."
As part of the Teacher of the Year process, each teacher had to write essay responses to eight questions ranging from personal teaching philosophy to the issues facing education.
McDuffie Education Federal Programs Director Beth Newton said a panel of three judges who are education administrators from outside the county read the essays and interviewed each teacher before choosing a finalist. Dr. Newton said the judges' exact words regarding Mrs. Welch were that "her passion came through."
Mrs. Welch will represent McDuffie County at the state level for Georgia Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in the spring.