2012-10-24 / Front Page

Debra Tanksley named countywide Teacher of the Year

By Anne Marie Kyzer

Debra Tanksley reacts after being named the Burke County Teacher of the Year during halftime of the Bears’ football game last Friday. Sam Adkins, principal of BCHS where Tanksley teachers, applauds. Photo by David StembridgeDebra Tanksley reacts after being named the Burke County Teacher of the Year during halftime of the Bears’ football game last Friday. Sam Adkins, principal of BCHS where Tanksley teachers, applauds. Photo by David StembridgeShe teaches English, but she hopes to expand more than their vocabulary.

Debra Tanksley sees potential in the students who walk into her classroom, and she hopes they leave a little bit changed at the end of the semester.

That desire to make a difference has helped earn Tanksley recognition as Burke County Public Schools’ 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year.

Tanksley’s honor was announced at halftime of last Friday’s football game in the Bear Den, after each of the five county school’s teachers of the year were recognized at midfield. School officials hope to make it a new tradition, aiming to honor their best educators in front of thousands of fans and the students they work for each day.

Those students are exactly what has kept Tanskley, a Columbia County native, commuting here each day since she started her teaching career five years ago.

Though she completed her student-teaching at Greenbrier High School and had other opportunities in Richmond and Columbia counties after she graduated from Augusta State University, she said one visit here with then-principal Dr. Wayne Hickman was all it took to know this was her calling.

“I didn’t even wait until hearing back from other schools,” she remembers, noting she had several other interviews lined up. “There’s just a pull here. I prayed about it before I took this position. I just felt like this was the place I was meant to be and make a difference.”

Those students, including a ninth grade honors class and several classes of juniors, tackle more than pronouns and punctuation in Tanksley’s English/language arts classes. She challenges them to examine the context in their lives.

“It’s not just about teaching language arts. It’s about opening up students’ minds to the world around them and how they can impact it,” she explained. “This is an area where you really have the chance to open up and have discussions. This has allowed me to open it up to not just literature and writing, but to what’s relevant in the world and the students’ lives.”

BCHS principal Sam Adkins called Tanksley a “dedicated educator” and the kind of teacher parents want for their children.

“Believing that every student can and will exceed the expectation set in the classroom is one attribute that characterizes Mrs. Tanksley,” he said. “Her approach to teaching is infused with research-based best practices and a true zeal for student learning. To watch her engage students is both exciting and refreshing.”

Tanksley said she’s overwhelmed by the honor and thankful she has been embraced by the school, students and community so much since she’s come here.

“I want to express a very sincere gratitude for having been chosen and for being welcomed in this community and system,” she said. “The system has treated me wonderfully. I felt welcomed immediately even though I wasn’t from here, and this community has become a second home to me. Most importantly, I feel the students are what keep me here.”

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