POSTED: Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 5:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 5:04am
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Dozens of local educators received a rare moment of recognition Wednesday.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School System honored the 2014-15 Teachers and Principals of the Year during a ceremony at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
One teacher from each school in the district was a finalist, with winners chosen for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
Joy Watson, a fifth grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary, Andrew Pizzo, band director at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet, and Daniel Eiland, a social studies and robotics teacher at Woodlawn High, were selected as the winners.
"This is amazing," Watson said. "I'm really happy to be nominated, Teacher of the Year for East Baton Rouge Parish."
"It's a great honor," Pizzo agreed.
"This is really exciting, mainly because it brings a lot of recognition, not to what I do, necessarily, but to what the kids I work with do," Eiland added.
All three teachers were recognized for the number of students they influence, both in the classroom and through extracurricular or professional activities. As they inspire, the winners mentioned the ways in which they were inspired.
"East Baton Rouge Parish instilled in me the values," Watson said, "so in return, giving back to my community is amazing. Just going to school every day and seeing loving faces, nurturing children, that's what I love the most."
"I had some great teachers coming up," Pizzo stated. "I keep in touch with both of them, actually, both of my former directors of music, and everything. They just inspired me to the point where that's what I decided I wanted to do."
Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, noted that two of the winners were men, when primary and secondary teachers are more likely to be women. But they also differ from the norm in their subject matter: Eiland was recognized in large part for his work leading Woodlawn's robotics club, and Pizzo won in spite of the general reduction in arts spending.
"This is representative of the entire arts department of the school, the parish, the state, so that's the way I've accepted the award," Pizzo said.
"I bring this before people and I say, 'hey, look, these programs work, and people get recognized when they participate in them,'" Eiland stated.
While the winners praised their profession and the schools and administrators they work for, they each recognized that public education is not perfect. They wished their salaries matched the importance of their jobs, and that their schools had the resources many private schools do. But teachers like Watson, Eiland, and Pizzo turn challenges into opportunities.
"Being in public education, you just never know who's going to walk through your door, you know, as far as a student," Watson said. "You have to be open and be able to love them, and support them, and nurture them in every way possible."
"It's definitely improved hands-on learning, different ways of approaching different kids," Eiland added. "How do you teach them to grow from where they're at to where they need to be?"
"We all wish we had state-of-the-art buildings and facilities and stuff, but you deal with what you've been given and you make it the best for what you are," Pizzo stated. "You know, and it takes a teacher, individually, going into the bottom of their heart to make it, make the learning environment what it needs to be for the students."
Each winner received a trophy, as well as two envelopes of money: one to spend on their classrooms, and one to spend on themselves. But they valued the daily reawrd of their jobs more than the financial reward.
"We're in the business of children," Watson said. "And just going to school every day and greeting my kids with a warm, open smile is amazing, and I truly love it."
The Principals of the Year were also honored, though they were pre-selected: Sharmayne Rutledge from Greenbriar Elementary, Herman Brister of McKinley Middle Magnet, and Howard Davis of Scotlandville Magnet High.