America's classrooms have started to sound less like places for education than kitchens cooking up alphabet soup: AYP. NCLB. ITBS. And, lately, SAT.
As hot as it gets in those kitchens, there is a rare breed of people who every day demonstrate the ability to stand up to it and try their best to educate the next generation.
They're teachers. And in Columbia County, Thursday is a special day as the county's public school teachers of the year are applauded with a dinner in their honor.
This year's banquet also brings an air of suspense. In years past, the county's teacher of the year was named in advance. This year, the school system added to the anticipation by bringing in a panel of judges from outside Columbia County to pick five finalists, who were named at the School Board's Aug. 10 meeting.
Those five top teachers have since been through a 30-minute interview with the outside judges, who also observed the finalists at work in their classrooms. The judges' selection for Columbia County Teacher of the Year will be named Thursday evening in the West Lake banquet.
"A teacher's strength is their ability to be effective in class, and that's why we feel it's important that (it) be a criteria in their being chosen as Teacher of the Year," says Lauren Williams, Columbia County's associate superintendent for student learning.
The job of a public-school teacher is tough, and getting tougher as unrealistic demands are placed on educators. They're expected to provide an oasis of learning in the midst of a world that often seems to have deserted common sense.
Meanwhile, the pressure to meet arbitrary standards applied uniformly to children who are anything but uniformly alike continues to rise. Educators increasingly are held accountable for factors far beyond their control - everything from absenteeism to developmental problems.
In the face of all this, the best teachers somehow manage to keep at it, to stay in the kitchens and survive and thrive in the heat. Every single one of them daily earns new respect for their efforts, and Columbia County's Teacher of the Year - whoever he or she may be - deserves our applause.
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