They are among the best of the best and are being singled out for their dedication and excellence in the classroom.
However, winning Teacher of the Year for Bossier Parish is an honor that this year’s recipients aren’t taking sole credit for. After all, there’s no ‘I’ in TEAM and Together, Everyone (really does) Achieve More.
Representing Bossier Parish’s finest educators for the 2014-2015 school year are Tori Johnson from W.T. Lewis Elementary School, Amanda Eagle from Benton Middle School and Dr. Anita Szombathelyi from Airline High School.
Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Tori Johnson knew she wanted to be a teacher from a very early age.
There was even a time she built her own overhead projector at home, which she used to ‘teach’ her baby dolls and younger sister. Now, the second grade teacher is living her dream every single day at W.T. Lewis Elementary.
Johnson said her goal as a teacher is to be a good Christian role model for her students, past and present.
“I want them to know they can grow up to be anything they want to be,” she said. “I try to make leaning fun and keep my students engaged in class because it really is fun to be here every day.”
That same positive environment is what she loved about school as a child, even recalling the teachers who made a lasting impression on her life. One of those people was her third grade teacher and now co-worker, Kristi (Jones) Pilkinton.
“She was always so bubbly and just so sweet,” Johnson said. “She really made learning fun.”
This year, Johnson was selected to represent her school and Bossier Parish as the Elementary Teacher of the Year. Johnson said she’ll never forget the phone call she received from Superintendent D.C. Machen with the unexpected news.
“Never in a million years did I think that I would be teacher of the year,” she said.
However, Johnson doesn’t take full credit for the award. She was quick to praise her colleagues, school administrators and the Bossier School System for helping her along the way.
“I wouldn’t be teacher of the year had it not been for the people I work with,” she explained. “We have an amazing staff and administrators, who I am very blessed to call my family.”
Johnson concluded by saying she’s just doing what she loves…even using a modern day version of the overhead projector she once built – a document camera.
“I can’t imagine working without it,” she joked.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Seven years ago, Amanda Eagle and her family moved all the way from Florida to the small town of Benton for what was only supposed to be a short while.
However, Eagle said it became their home and the place she found the job of her dreams.
“I can’t imagine my life without these kids and being part of this Benton [Middle School] family,” she said.
Eagle is a math instructor at Benton Middle School, teaching sixth grade honors math, seventh grade advanced math and eighth grade honors Algebra I. Eagle said she always thought about being a teacher, but it was her seventh grade math teacher, Mary Hinson, that changed the way she thought about math.
Then there was Rose Cavin, her high school geometry teacher.
“She showed me how to love math,” Eagle said. “Her love for math rubbed off on me.”
As a teacher, Eagle said she strives to be an encourager and a positive influence for her students.
“I try to, no matter what, come in every day and make it a safe, spirited place to be,” she said. “No matter how hard the topic is, they should feel like they can accomplish anything.”
Eagle said being named Middle School Teacher of the Year absolutely blew her away.
“There are so many teachers here that I learn from every day that are the real teachers of the year,” she said. “I’m so honored to represent my school and my colleagues. That’s the biggest honor to receive.”
The award, Eagle said, is something she tries not to think about often.
“You want to live up to what people expect from that honor, but I’m doing this for Benton Middle School; not Amanda Eagle,” she said. “I just play a part in being the best school in Bossier Parish.”
High School Teacher of the Year
There’s always that one person in life that encourages you to be the best you can be.
For Dr. Anita Szombathelyi, that person was her mother. Born and raised in Hungary, Szombathelyi was exposed to education from an early age.
“I was always surrounded by kids,” she recalled. “I loved working with kids of all ages.”
It was clear, then, that education would be the path her future would lead her down. She taught English to Hungarian children and received a Masters equivalency in Russian literature and computer science. When Szombathelyi moved to the United States, she continued her studies at the University of South Carolina, where she earned a Masters degree in mathematics and her PhD in math education.
“Teaching math is my passion,” Szombathelyi said. “I had a really good high school math teacher that pushed and pushed us to do better. I didn’t think I would be a math teacher because it’s not the most loved subject, but I love seeing those ‘aha’ moments where it finally clicks with a student.”
Szombathelyi has called Airline home for five years. This year, she was named the school and Parish High School Teacher of the Year.
However, Szombathelyi said she thinks of herself more as an academic coach.
“Teaching is about nurturing, guiding, setting high expectations and pushing them to be their best,” she said. “The best reward you can have as a teacher is when you have students come back and say thank you. So this is not honoring my work, but the students work. I couldn’t do it without my students, my fellow teachers and Airline High School.”
Not only has she been recognized by the Bossier School System, but she’s also captured the state’s attention. Szombathelyi was selected as the 2013 Louisiana Association of Teachers of Mathematics Outstanding High School Mathematics Teacher.
While the awards are nice, Szombathelyi said she doesn’t teach for special recognition.
“A teacher’s job is one of the most complex jobs ever,” she said. “We do much more than teach. We are counseling, mentoring, guiding, and preparing them for life in any way that we can. It’s demanding – physically, emotionally and mentally – but very rewarding.”
So what is the mathematical formula for a teacher’s success? Szombathelyi said it’s all about the three Ps: perseverance, patience and practice.