When a co-worker at Briarwood Academy congratulated her two weeks ago on being named STAR teacher, Crystal Fleming replied that they were mistaken because Kathy Chalker was just named Briarwood's STAR teacher.
"And they said, 'No, it's for Thomson High School,'" Mrs. Fleming said. "It was a complete shock to be STAR teacher when I've only taught for three years. It's unbelievable."
Mrs. Fleming was selected by Caitlin Burnside, the Class of 2010 STAR student for Thomson High. Caitlin said she attended Briarwood until her junior year, and Mrs. Fleming taught her Spanish 2 while she was a sophomore there.
The Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition title is awarded annually to the student who scored the highest grade in the school on the Scholastic Assessment Test college entrance exam while remaining in the top 10 percent of their class. Caitlin's SAT score of 1920 of a possible 2400 earned her the title at THS.
Each STAR student chooses a teacher whom they feel has been their biggest influence to be their STAR teacher.
"To know it's student-selected is an honor in itself. But, to have a caliber student like Caitlin choose me, there's no words to describe how it feels," Mrs. Fleming said.
"I know, because I've been looking in the Thesaurus."
Caitlin is active in the musical theater at THS, a member of the Bulldog Brigade dance team and the Key Club, and attends Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. Through the school's apprenticeship program she is a clerical intern at First Baptist Church of Thomson. But she also is active in the church as a member of the student choir, attending mission trips, working with middle school students during mid-week programs and keeping the scoreboard for Upward basketball games.
"I don't compete with others as much as I do with myself," Caitlin said.
"I take myself to the next level and having teachers like Mrs. Fleming helps me to do that. I've been fortunate to have so many good teachers shepherd me, challenge me and not just expect me to do the work, but pushed me to do better."
Caitlin said Mrs. Fleming always "encouraged me to follow my heart and not let anything hold me back." It was that personal guidance that led Caitlin to visit Mrs. Fleming's classroom often to "vent or just talk anytime."
In fact, Caitlin is still taking that opportunity whenever she visits the Briarwood campus. Caitlin is undecided on where she will attend college.
Although she is in the process of interviewing at Berry College and Shorter College, she said she is waiting to "check all the options before I start the next chapter of my life."
"You cannot compare Caitlin to any other student," said Mrs. Fleming, who is a 2002 graduate of Thomson High School. "She's mature way beyond her years. She's conscientious. She understands what she wants. She's confident, but not prideful. She's brilliant."
When Caitlin told her parents, Daniel and Rebekah Burnside, she was STAR student, she said it was supposed to be a secret until the school made the official announcement.
"And the first thing my mom did was get on Facebook and put 'My baby is STAR student,'" Caitlin said with a laugh.