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The final three 2009-2010 Teachers of the Year, in their words
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Editor’s note: Since August, the Bryan County News has been running profiles of the 2009-2010 Teachers of the Year from each school.

Here are the remaining three: Pam Walker from Carver Elementary, Riann Willis from Richmond Hill Middle School and Kema Pena, from Richmond Hill High School. Pena was also named the system-wide teacher of the year.

The 2010-2011 Teachers of the Year are being named now and will be featured in upcoming issues.


Name: Pamela Walker

School: George Washington Carver Elementary

Subjects: Reading and Math

Personal Background

My name is Pamela Walker. I was born in Savannah and raised on the coastal shores in the historic town of Midway, Georgia. I have been married to my wonderful husband, Rodger, for 15 years. We have three beautiful sons, Will, Ethan and Zachary. I enjoy reading, swimming, walking and riding bikes.

Professional Background:

I graduated high school in 1979 from Bradwell Institute. Then, in May of 2003, I graduated from Armstrong Atlantic State University with my bachelors degree in early childhood education. I was honored to be on the dean’s list throughout my college career. I have completed the Gifted Certification Program through RESA and graduated with a master’s degree in reading literacy through Walden University. I also completed an intense two year leadership program and graduated from the PAGE Teacher Academy in 2008.

What made you choose to get into teaching?

The most important influencing factor in my decision to becoming a teacher was my mom. I saw the joy she experienced by being an assistant teacher and driving a school bus. She had a genuine love and concern for children and she instilled in me the joy of giving to others. I also had some great, inspirational teachers. For example, my eleventh grade English teacher was not only a teacher, but a mentor and friend. She had all the qualities of a great teacher. She was caring, empathic, motivating, creative, and very patient. These are character traits that she demonstrated continually and another reason I wanted to teach. Of course I love being around children, but I feel that God has given me the talent of teaching. I take my profession very serious; therefore I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of all the children I teach.

How do you like teaching in Bryan County Schools?

I feel tremendously blessed to be teaching in the Bryan County School system. Richmond Hill is a beautiful small town community, rich in history and lathered in southern charm. It is a town where parents, teachers and community work together to educate students. The school system is one in which there is a consistent focus throughout the curriculum on values such as patriotism, and honesty, which I believe will produce productive members of society.

What makes the job worth it?

I believe teaching is one profession where I am allowed to combine many careers. As a teacher, I am also a counselor, role model, care provider, nurse, secretary, mentor and many other professions rolled into one. I believe each child, regardless of race, culture, gender, etc, has the potential to learn. As an effective teacher, I strive to provide whatever means necessary for each child to reach his/her potential. My goal at the end of each school year is that students show signs of academic achievement and that they have learned life-long skills that will help them be productive members of our society. I look forward to going to work everyday. I look forward to seeing the gleam in children’s eyes when they finally understand concepts taught. I look forward to learning and sharing with my colleagues, techniques to help students become successful. I am passionate about teaching and learning and am constantly reading, studying, and working diligently to become a better educator. My devotion to this rewarding profession provides me great dignity and self worth. Although teacher’s salaries are not grand, I believe making differences in the lives of children is much more rewarding.

How does winning the award feel?

I feel honored and amazed at winning Teacher of The Year for Carver Elementary. Being chosen as the George Washington Carver Teacher of the Year is unquestionably the most amazing honor of my career. I must say that I was quite surprised when I learned that I had been nominated by my colleagues and faculty because I am surrounded by fabulous teachers who have been wonderful role models.


Name: Riann C. Willis

School: Richmond Hill Middle School

Subject Taught: English Language Arts

Personal Background:

I grew up in the small town of Vidalia, Georgia where I always had dreams of becoming a teacher. After graduation from high school, I attended East Georgia College and later transferred to Armstrong Atlantic State University to pursue a degree in education. I met my husband, Chris Willis, while I was completing my student teaching requirements. We were married in downtown Savannah in June 2005. We are happy and proud to announce that we are now expectant parents with twin babies due in March 2010. My hobbies include reading, teaching, and spending time with my family and my sweet puppy dog.

Professional Background:

After graduation from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 2001, I started teaching 8th grade ELA at Richmond Hill Middle School. I have been a RHMS Wildcat since the beginning of my teaching career and love every minute of it!

What made you choose to get into teaching?

The only career choice I have ever considered was to become a teacher. I may not have been born a teacher, but I know I was born to teach. I knew from the very first day of kindergarten that I wanted to be a teacher. My first teacher, Mrs. Gross, had a lasting impact on my desire to teach. Her kind smile, encouraging words and knack for making school so much fun have remained with me through the years. I was fascinated by learning and how teachers impart their wisdom into the young minds that fill the classrooms. My earliest memories of school are fond ones that lead back me every time to a teacher.

Education was always stressed in my family and I grew up loving to learn new things. I can remember my papa reminding me to turn on more lights when I was reading and telling me how important it was to read and to learn. My grandmother was a teacher, and I am proud to say that I have followed in her footsteps. My sister and I would play school almost every day, and of course, I was always the teacher. It was absolutely thrilling to share what I learned at school with her and to help her to love learning as much as I did. My parents have always encouraged me to follow my dreams. They understood how important education is and helped me to know that too. Their support and unconditional love provided me with the wings to soar. They have always been my biggest fans, and my heart swells with pride as I know I have made them proud in my quest to become a teacher.

I forever dreamed of the day I would become a teacher. When I first set foot in a classroom as a student teacher, it all came true. I started my career at Richmond Hill Middle School after graduation in 2001 and continue to teach there. When others ask, "What do you teach?," I always respond with "kids." Many others have smiled and laughed, but I see this as the simple truth. While I am an English language arts teacher, I teach kids. They are the reason I go to work each day. There is truly no other place I would rather be than in a classroom filled with middle school students. Some may call me crazy, but I really feel at home in the company of my students. It is so rewarding to have a job that allows me to live my dream every day.

How do you like teaching in Bryan County Schools?

I feel extremely lucky to be a teacher in the Bryan County School System. The Bryan County Board of Education cares about and takes care of their teachers and students. Richmond Hill Middle School is my home away from home, and I could not imagine working anywhere else. The Richmond Hill community is a wonderful place to live and teach.

What makes the job worth it?

My real contributions and accomplishments in education are not those recognized by professionals, but they are seen through my students. Although I was nominated and chosen as the Teacher of Year by my colleagues, it was my students’ response that made it more gratifying. So many of them congratulated me and told me I was always "their TOTY." I try my best everyday to meet the needs of my students and to be the best that I can be for them. The light in their eyes makes me smile; their enthusiasm motivates me to challenge them, and their desire to learn lifts my spirits. The Japanese Proverb, "To teach is to learn," speaks volumes. Not only do I teach boys and girls each day, but they also teach me. Together we are on a learning journey that I am saddened to see end each May. The children become part of me, and I carry them in my heart from year to year. I would have to say that my greatest accomplishment as a teacher is definitely being a part of my students’ lives.

Teaching is a daily reward. I am blessed to have the opportunity to share in so many children’s lives. Some days while the students are working quietly at their desks, I just look at them in sheer amazement. I think about how special they are and how proud I am to be their teacher. The quote, "To teach is to touch a life forever," is interpreted to mean that teachers touch children’s lives. While I do believe that to be true, I am able to see how the children affect my life as well. Teaching and learning are my life, and I could not imagine anything better.

If you were asked to say a few words in response to this honor, what would they be?

It is the greatest honor to represent the teaching profession as the Teacher of the Year. I feel that I am just a teacher working hard to do my best – nothing more and nothing less. My message to other teachers is to simply bring the best of yourself to your students every day. They deserve it. Lead by example and thrive on patience. Be flexible. Take time to reflect and never be afraid of change. Most importantly, teach with a smile and a happy heart.


Name: Kema W. Pena

School: Richmond Hill High School

Subject Taught: 9-12 Special Education

Personal Background:

I have been married to my husband for nearly eight years. We have one child, Carter, who is 4 1/2. We are members of St. Anne's Catholic Church. I am originally from Warner Robins, Ga., but moved to Savannah 13 years ago then moved to Richmond Hill two years ago.

Professional Background:

I attended Georgia College and State University. I have a bachelor of science in education with certification in special education. I previously taught at Heard Elementary for three years and Jenkins High School in Savannah for eight years. I was selected as Heard Elementary's 1999/2000 Teacher of the Year.

What made you choose to get into teaching?

I have known I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I choose special education once I was in college. I was inspired to move in that direction after I substitute taught in a special education class.

How do you like teaching in Bryan County Schools?

I love teaching in Bryan county schools. RHHS has a very warm, welcoming and supportive staff. The students and their families have been amazing to work with. I have felt like I belonged here since my first day at the high school.

What makes the job worth it?

Quite simply, my students. It is very rewarding to not only to try to make a difference, but to know that you often do!

If you were asked to say a few words in response to winning this award, what would you say? That I am honored and proud to represent Bryan County Schools in such way. I will strive to continue to serve our school system in a positive manner and do my part to help make a difference in the lives of everyone I teach!

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