The McDuffie County Board of Education has recognized the six Teacher of the Year finalists for this school year. They are selected by peers at their respective schools.
The county-wide teacher of the year will be announced at the annual banquet given in honor of all the candidates. This year's banquet will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, at Thomson-McDuffie Middle School.
Dearing Elementary School
Jeana Aycock has been teaching for five years. She is in her fourth year at Dearing Elementary, where she teaches third-grade math.
Aycock graduated from Lincoln County High School in 2002 and Brenau University, where she studied business administration accounting, in 2006. She worked as an accountant for three years before getting a master's degree in teaching from Augusta State University.
She earned an education specialist degree in teaching and learning in 2010.
Aycock said she enjoys teaching because every day she has the opportunity to make a difference in her students' lives.
"Teaching is the most rewarding job, and I treasure every moment," she said. "It is also a lot of fun watching my students' faces when they eventually master a concept that they have struggled with."
She and her husband, Steed, have been married for five years, and their first child is due in February.
Thomson High School
Larry Dunn has been teaching high school for eight years. He teaches Naval Science I and II to students in grades 9 to 12 at THS.
Dunn said his favorite aspect of teaching is helping students find their way through life with education.
"Teachers motivate students to believe that they are important and they can succeed in life no matter what obstacles they may face," he said. "The students we teach today will be our future tomorrow."
Dunn was born and raised in Washington, Ga., and graduated from Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School in 1982.
In December 2003, he retired from the Marine Corps as a gunnery sergeant after 20 years of service.
He and his wife, Vestine, have two daughters, Katrina and Sabrina.
He is an active member of Young Chapel Baptist Church and vice president of Baptist Training Union Congress. He also volunteers on community service events with the NJROTC.
Maxwell Elementary School
Elena Lamar has been teaching for 27 years, 22 of them teaching kindergarten and first grade in McDuffie County. She teaches first grade at Maxwell Elementary.
She loves seeing students get excited about learning. It is rewarding to see a student who has previously struggled to grasp a concept as they come to understand it, she said.
Lamar grew up with teachers all around her. Her mother and father both began their careers in teaching, and her grandmother and two aunts were teachers.
"I've always wanted to be a teacher since I was a young girl playing teacher with my sisters in our basement," she said.
She and her husband, Al, have four children, Amber, Nikki, Gloria and John.
In her free time, Lamar enjoys participating in activities at her church, reading, traveling and spending time with her family.
Thomson Elementary School
Stacee Leslie, a Thomson native, is in her seventh year teaching third grade at TES.
Leslie promotes health and physical fitness through an after-school fitness club and provides free tutoring after school.
She also contributed in writing a grant that has provided more than $1 million toward health and physical fitness initiatives in McDuffie County elementary schools.
Leslie said her primary goal is to give students an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
"I am so honored to take part in a profession that has the power to transform lives and whose lasting effects can impact an eternity," she said.
Leslie received a bachelor's degree in education from Georgia Southern University and a master's degree from Troy University. She completed her gifted education certification in 2008.
She has been married to Tellis Leslie, a teacher at Thomson High School, for 10 years. They have one daughter, Ashlyn.
Norris Elementary School</p>
Tammy McClure has spent her entire 17-year teaching career at Norris Elementary School. She teaches general music to fourth- and fifth-graders.
She received a bachelor's degree in music education from Augusta College in 1995.
Her favorite part of teaching music is seeing how happy children become when they sing and play instruments.
"Music can reach the most unreachable child," she said. "It does not judge, criticize, or threaten. It is a safe place for them to express themselves."
She also likes having the opportunity to teach every student at Norris.
McClure was born and raised in McDuffie County. She has been married to her high school sweetheart, Brent, for 19 years. They have two sons, Gunn and Garrett.
When she isn't teaching, she enjoys playing piano and working with the youth group at Fort Creek Baptist Church in Dearing, Ga. She also likes gardening, reading and spending time with her family.
Thomson-McDuffie Middle School
Claudia Rodriguez has been teaching for 14 years. She has taught all academic subjects and Spanish, and is currently teaching sixth-grade social studies.
Rodriguez said her favorite part of teaching is the time she spends with her students from August to May.
"The daily challenges of navigating the unpredictable and emotional roller coaster of the passage of life we call middle school is a ride I get a ticket for each morning," she said. "Not for the thrill of the roller coaster ride, but to accompany 'my babies' - squealing with them in the thrills and accomplishments and holding their hands on the scary loop-de-loops of life."
Rodriguez has been married to her high school sweetheart, Miguel, for 12 years. They have one son, Elijah. They have a dog, nine pet pygmy goats and a yard full of chickens.
When she isn't teaching, she enjoys family time, reading and volunteering at her church.