When the top education official in the state entered Zachariah Lowe's classroom on Tuesday, he became a living example of why he wanted to become a teacher and what he tries to instill in his students.
Anyone can become anything if they put their …
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"He loves his students, and his students love him."
Thomas Langford, band director
"He really goes above and beyond for the children, especially on Sumter County field trips and making sure they're engaged in things, and not only helping the grow academically but personally."
Emmitt Vogt, science teacher
"His supportive role extends to colleagues and his commitment to grow as a professional. He encourages students to have the same love of learning. Students love his class because he encourages participation."
Anita Hunter, principal
Anyone can become anything if they put their mind and heart into it.
The sixth- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at Mayewood Middle School in rural eastern Sumter County is one of the five finalists for State Teacher of the Year, and State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman surprised him in his class with the announcement.
"I live in a rural area, and I know the hard work that all teachers are doing, but especially teachers that may have students who may come from low income and maybe don't have the resources and opportunities in other areas of the state," Spearman said at the school on East Brewington Road.
Lowe, who was named Sumter School District Teacher of the Year last year and was chosen as a finalist for the top spot from the 81 other district winners, received $10,000 for the designation.
If he is named South Carolina Teacher of the Year - a gala is set for May 2 in Columbia - he will receive an additional $25,000 and a new BMW to use while he serves for one year as a roving ambassador to provide mentoring, attend speaking engagements, work with teacher cadets and teaching fellows and lead the State Teacher Forum as a spokesman for more than 48,000 educators.
"It takes that extra dedication. The extra engagement that they're able to do with their students," Spearman said. "For them to be able to rise to the top of the 82 district teachers of the year is phenomenal."
The connection between Lowe and his students was clear on Tuesday. When Spearman explained to the class that if he wins, he will have to leave them for a year, they yelled for him not to win.
"You have to be dedicated to your kids first and foremost, to the individual learning, individual accomplishments and growth of each child," Lowe said. "But you also have to be a good team collaborator with teachers across your building and across the profession, really. You have to have a good ambassador of education, a supporter of public education. And you have to understand your place of not just teaching your kids but of being positive nurturers and role models and mentors and just the strong support system for the kids."
Lowe, who is in his fourth year of teaching - all in Sumter County after graduating from the University of Akron in Cleveland, Ohio - said every day of his job "brings new joy, new opportunities not just for myself, but, more importantly, for my students."
He became a teacher after idolizing his band teacher in high school, he said, and how he handled "every situation with poise and motivated every single child to be the best that they could possible be."
After originally wanting to follow the exact same career path before realizing "I'm not that talented to do all the different instruments" and finding a place in his second-favorite passion, social studies, he aims every day to give his students the same want to learn and the same optimism that they can do or be anything as he gleaned from his band teacher.
"I try to make sure the kids can be equipped to become leaders of the future," he said.
Middle school can be a time when students get embarrassed easily, when they want to interact with adults, when they're too cool for school. That didn't seem the case on Tuesday as Lowe was bombarded by a hug from his entire class.
At the same time.
"He sets high expectations, wants students to take responsibility for their learning while having fun and makes connections to their lives now to the content that he is teaching," Principal Anita Hunter said. "He makes them feel confident in participating whether they're right or wrong."
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