A bout with Hodgkin's disease left Euchee Creek Elementary School second-grade teacher Leeann Fleischauer unable to have children.
Euchee Creek Elementary second-grade teacher and Columbia County Teacher of the Year Leeann Fleischauer helps Humberto Garduno work on a computer lab project.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The resulting kinship she feels with her pupils helped elevate Fleischauer to Columbia County's 2005-06 Teacher of the Year.
"At the start of each (school) year, I tell my students that they are my kids," said Fleischauer, who won the Teacher of the Year honor at a banquet at West Lake Country Club.
The 11-year veteran teacher exhibited a deft touch with her pupils Friday as she organized a game of picking letters and formulating words with them.
She scurried about from table to table, making sure each student chose the correct letters from a plastic bag. She knelt down next to one little boy and politely corrected him for his letter choice.
"Is this a 'd'? No, it isn't is it?" she asked. "A 'd' faces the other way. This is a 'b'."
Originally from Arkansas, Fleischauer, 40, moved to Augusta at 18. She worked three jobs - selling UPS services, selling wedding dresses and serving for a catering company - to pay her way through college.
"I was making good money working for UPS, but it wasn't where my heart was," she said. "Even before I was sick, I always felt like life was too short to spend it doing something you weren't passionate about."
Fleischauer has been in remission for four years.
She started chemotherapy treatments for the disease in October 2001 with her sister, Pam Gibson, who suffered and eventually succumbed to breast cancer.
"Except for Wednesdays, which were the days I had chemo treatments, I never missed school," she said. "I couldn't stand to be away from my kids. They gave me so much strength."
Despite the obstacles she's faced, the former farm girl still expressed amazement at winning the countywide Teacher of the Year honor.
"I'm still in shock," she said. "There were some really good teachers I was up against. I mean, Andy Baumgartner was a National Teacher of the Year."
In addition to Baumgartner, a kindergarten teacher at Greenbrier Elementary School, Fleischauer also won over Camille Spires of Bel Air Elementary, Leslie Wright of Greenbrier Middle and Noel Feeney of Harlem High.
"I have to share the credit," Fleischauer said. "I'm part of a team here. We all collaborate. We use the same curriculum and we share our ideas here."
Fleischauer is now in the running for state Teacher of the Year.
In the next couple of months, her classroom techniques will be seen by a panel of judges and she will undergo a battery of interviews. Ten finalists for the honor will be named in January.
A Columbia County teacher has been named a state finalists every year since 2001. It's a streak Fleischauer is keenly aware of.
"I do feel a little bit of pressure to keep it going," she said. "I don't want to be the one it ends on."
In the meantime, she said she will enjoy her Teacher of the Year status and take advantage of the opportunity.
"I believe that teachers can influence entire families through education," she said. "I think that will be my platform."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.