Teacher of the Year
Congratulations to our 2023 Teacher of the Year!
Michelle "Reneé" Atkinson of Aynor High School
Renee´ Atkinson is an Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) English teacher at Aynor High School and began her teaching career at HCS in 2004. Renee’ earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Clemson University, a Master of Secondary English degree from Francis Marion University, an Education Specialist degree from Liberty University, and is also a National Board Certified teacher.
Renee’ Atkinson will now move on to the next round as a nominee for the state's Teacher of the Year program, which will be announced in 2023.
Read Mrs. Reneé Atkinson's Teacher of the Year acceptance speech:
I am shocked. Honored. Humbled to be standing here tonight. Everyone in this room, and especially in this group, deserves this honor. I know how hard each and every one of you work. And I am no more special than any one of you. We are all here because we are in the business of loving our children and wanting to see them succeed.
This year, last year, the year before that... even the year before that, really, have been difficult. In the face of missed days, media negativity, and overwhelming circumstances... what have felt like the greatest of odds, it can be easy to lose sight, to lose focus of WHY we do this. It’s easy to lose hope because, y’all. Our work is hard work when we have the best circumstances.
But. I would be willing to bet that most of us didn’t just choose to be teachers, we didn’t just choose this work. Most of us were called to it. We were called to value others above ourselves, we were called to serve others, called to love others... And that’s why we continue this work even when the work is hard, when the times are hard, when at times it seems impossible.
So what can we do to make it better? How can we find joy in difficult situations and continue to provide our students with what they need?
We have to take care of ourselves. We have to spend time with those we love doing what we love. We have to spread joy when times are good or bad. We have to let those around us see the light in us. And that means letting our lights shine, especially when it’s darkest.
In spite of seeing our profession as a calling, I think we sometimes wonder if we’re in the right place... I know I have (maybe even a lot recently), but a friend of mine gave me a sign earlier this year when I was really struggling and feeling like maybe this wasn’t where I belonged anymore (because yes, I have those feelings too). This sign is a reminder that we are more than test scores, bad days, angry parents and the like... And I have been keeping it right in front of my computer screen as a constant reminder. It says, “Just think, you’re not here by chance, but by God’s choosing to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.”
So let this be a reminder to all of us. When we start to think this is just a job, that we are just teachers... we need to remember that we are so much more. We do so much more than teach students about our content. We hold hands, give hugs, and wipe tears. We listen to countless stories, give advice, and provide encouragement. We buy coats, clothes, sometimes prom dresses. We provide candy, snacks, and even groceries. We write scholarship recommendations, help students prepare for college and life after school, and give references for potential jobs. We encourage our students to be more than they ever imagined they could be. We do all these things and more to build strong relationships with our students, and then, we teach our content.
To solidify this idea, I asked my senior students to time travel during this Teacher of the Year process, to take a trip back in time to their favorite teacher’s classroom, to spend some time in their mind’s eye and walk around in that room again. Then, I asked them to think about that teacher and what made that teacher so special, and do you know what? Not one student, not
one, mentioned the teacher’s content first, if at all. Every single student mentioned how that teacher made them feel, how that teacher believed in them, or how that teacher loved their students.
Our best work is building relationships, creating safe environments where our students can learn and grow. So, when the negative voices around us get too loud, when we begin to question ourselves and our worth, or when we start to think “we’re just teachers,” we need to remember that we were called to do this work, not just to teach our content but to encourage and to love children. Our ultimate worth as a teacher is determined by the sum of the lives we touch over a lifetime, so I will be forever thankful I am not “just a teacher,” and I hope you will too.