Katie Holmes might not appear on the cover of next week’s People magazine, but she’s a celebrity among her pupils and colleagues.
The Baker Place Elementary School teacher was given the red carpet treatment at an Oct. 4 banquet where she was selected Columbia County Teacher of the Year.
Now in her fifth year as an educator, Holmes was showered with prizes, including $500, multiple gift cards and a year-long lease on a new Mercedes-Benz C250.
Though she shares a name with a famous actress, Holmes’ profession is to shape the lives of the county’s youth as a first-grade teacher.
“I want (the pupils) to be lifelong learners where they have a passion for learning, but that they really are people of integrity and that they have the character needed to be successful in the workplace,” said Holmes.
Before coming to Baker Place, Holmes taught for three years at Cedar Ridge Elementary School.
Baker Place Principal Leeann Fleischaeur called Holmes an “exceptional teacher” with patience and a natural gift for teaching.
She said Holmes keeps her lesson plans centered around the pupil.
“You, on any given day, can walk in that classroom and you’re going to see small-group instruction, hands-on learning opportunities, and it’s fun,” said Fleischaeur, who was assistant principal at Cedar Ridge when Holmes taught there. “It’s fun for the kids. They enjoy coming to her class.”
On Friday, Holmes captivated the attention of 18 young pupils in her classroom through a phonics lesson on an interactive projector. The children then broke into small groups to practice the skills they’d just learned.
Because Holmes’ class is inclusive, she teaches special-needs students in her regular class, which is smaller than most other first-grade classes at the school.
“It’s so hard to differentiate instruction, and meeting in those small groups, I’m really able to give what those students need in order to be successful,” Holmes said.
“I also strive to incorporate a lot of technology with our kids now.
“They’re so into all the new things that are out with technology, so it’s a way to keep them engaged and motivated to learn.”
Fleischaeur said Holmes goes above and beyond to reach her pupils, attending their ball games and special events outside of the classroom.
“Her influence is just not here in this building, but it stretches outside of the school as well,” Fleischaeur said.
“That just goes back to how she builds those trusting relationships with her students.
Holmes, also an assistant tennis coach at Greenbrier High School, agreed that building relationships with her pupils and their families is the most rewarding aspect of her job.
Holmes was one of five finalists nominated by a panel of three educators from outside the school system.
She is the first Teacher of the Year from Baker Place Elementary in the school’s first year of eligibility in the countywide program.
She is now eligible to become Georgia Teacher of the Year. Finalists for the state honor will be named in February and a winner chosen in May.
Holmes gave credit for the award to those who surround her at Baker Place, including other teachers and her administration.
“I was so humbled because I feel like there are so many great teachers here,” she said. “I get ideas from them, and we all collaborate together, so without them, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am.”
Holmes also gets support from the 18 little faces she sees every day in her classroom.
“They were definitely excited and jumping up and down,” Holmes said. “It was very sweet. Some brought me flowers and cards.”