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Georgetown County's top teacher candidates introduce themselves

The five finalists for the Georgetown County School District Teacher of the Year award include a guidance counselor, elementary school teacher and special education teacher.

Each of the district's 18 schools selects a teacher of the year, and those teachers are whittled down to five finalists. The winner will be announced at a banquet 7 p.m. Thursday at Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort.

The winner will go on to compete for state teacher of the year.

The Sun News asked each of the five finalists to fill out a questionnaire with three questions about themselves. Here are their responses:

Summer K. Altman, 30, special education teacher at Waccamaw Middle School (seven years teaching)

1. Why did you decide to be an educator?

In high school, I joined a teacher cadet program because I wanted to be an educator. After a visit from the State Department of Education, I realized helping mentally challenged students was my calling. I paid very close attention when they said there is a big need for special education teachers in South Carolina. After working as a counselor for several summers at Camp Burnt Gin, I fell in love with the children.

2. Why do you think you were selected to be a district finalist?

I hope they saw and felt my enthusiasm for teaching and working with students with special needs. It was a surprise to be nominated as Teacher of the Year for my school and an honor to be selected as a finalist. I have enjoyed representing special education teachers and our students in the district and I love teaching.

3. Describe your favorite teaching moment

I remember one Christmas, while shopping for our adopted family, my students were able to use their money skills to buy toys, clothes and food with money we raised selling Christmas pins. It was heart warming to see my students giving to others when so many people give to us!

Pam Blumetto, 57, eighth-grade English, language arts and honors gifted and talented teacher at Rosemary Middle School (25 years teaching)

1.Why did you decide to become an educator?

I decided to become an educator because I love working with children and helping them to achieve their goals in life. I want to have a positive impact on children, and I have a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. I enjoy reading and writing and hope to foster that same passion in others. I knew from a young age that I wanted a profession that would be exciting and fun-filled, and teaching is the perfect place for that.

2: Why do you think you were selected to be a district finalist?

It is difficult for me to "toot my own horn" (so to speak) about what I think I did to be selected as a finalist for Teacher of the Year. I do not feel I did anything different than I normally do on a day-to-day basis. In a nutshell, however, here is what I would probably have to say. I work with the best administration, faculty, and staff in the world that enable me to blossom, grow, and be successful at my job. I love my students, and I treat them with respect. I thoroughly enjoy what I'm doing, have fun doing it, possess a sense of humor, and encourage everyone to do his or her best. I have a motto in my class which I recite frequently, "You do not have the right to fail -- failing is not an option!" I teach with excitement, I involve all my students, and I give "parent homework" because I know that parent involvement and communication is critical to student success.

3. What is your favorite teaching moment?

I have several mini-favorite teaching moments throughout the year that make me happy, such as times when I see light bulbs go on above students' heads when they grasp difficult concepts for the first time, when students want extra tutoring in an effort to bring grades up, and when I can become the facilitator in the classroom and students take responsibility for their learning. However, my favorite teaching moment occurs every year when I see my eighth-grade students walk across the stage during the promotion ceremony with huge smiles across their faces to receive their promotion certificates. As they head through the door into their future, I am pleased to know that I have been a part of this journey with them.

Sonya Marsh, 37, guidance counselor at Pleasant Hill Elementary (15 years teaching)

1.Why did you decide to become an educator?

The reason I became an educator is because of my experience in the classrooms of Georgetown County School District. I was given a love of learning through many people who touched my life as a student in this district. That love for learning inspired me to believe that I can make a difference, whether in my community, in my school or in my classroom. Ultimately, those small differences add up to create great leaders.

2. Why do you think you were selected as a district finalist?

I am humbled that I would be chosen as a finalist among all the wonderful educators that work in Georgetown County. As a guidance counselor, I am the one who likes to cheer everyone else to success. This role is one I'm not accustomed to, but I am very honored to be a part of such a great school and district.

3. Describe your favorite teaching moment.

Birthday celebrations, career day, student of the month, morning greeter, shoe-tier, lunch buddy, you name it. They are all teachable moments whether funny, serious or sad. I am blessed to have so many WOW moments with students over the years. I must say that as a school counselor, working with the entire student body, every day is a favorite teaching moment for me.

Amy Norton, 42, fifth grade at McDonald Elementary School (15 years teaching)

1. Why did you decide to become an educator?

I chose to pursue a career in teaching because I realized I had something special to offer children and knew that I could make a difference in their lives. I recognized that through education, children are able to change their circumstances and expand their horizons.

2. Why do you think you were selected to be a district finalist?

I strive each day to educate, motivate, and inspire each one of my students to reach his/her greatest potential. I make learning exciting and challenging. As a Teacher of the Year finalist, I am simply representing all of the dedicated teachers of Georgetown County.

3 .Describe your favorite teaching moment.

My favorite teaching moments are those which occur each day - the eyes that light up with understanding, the emotional connection a student makes to a piece of curriculum, the warmth of a proud smile, the shared laughter, or a child overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. These combined moments create our safe, validating learning community.

Finalist Billie Sirignano Wharton, a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher and Gifted and Talented ELA teacher at Georgetown Middle School, did not return her survey in time for publication..

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