SC teacher of the year honored as changes still debated

May 9, 2019
From left to right, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, Gov. Henry McMaster, 2020 Teacher of the Year Chanda Jefferson, Bojangles CEO Jose Armario and State Superintendent Molly Spearman pose for a photo following a press conference proclaiming May Teacher Appreciation Month at the Statehouse, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s new teacher of the year planned to become a doctor but ended up becoming a biology teacher after a part-time, hands-on science job while in college with elementary school students.

Chanda Jefferson, who teaches in Fairfield County, won the award at a banquet Wednesday evening and then came to the Statehouse on Thursday to be honored.

She is in her eighth year teaching high school biology, the career path she chose after that “Mad Science” job.

Jefferson won a $25,000 prize, the chance to drive a BMW for a year and a chance to spend the next year working at a center to recruit and retain the best teachers.

“I say it time and time again, there’s magic happening in the classrooms across South Carolina,” Jefferson said. “Magic happening, and I just want that to be showcased this year.”

After honoring Jefferson on Thursday, State Superintendent Molly Spearman answered criticism from a May 1 rally where 10,000 people, many of them teachers, came to the Statehouse on a school day to call for an overhaul of the state’s education system.

Spearman didn’t back down from her comment that she “cannot support teachers walking out on their obligations.”

“I understand they have frustrations. I get frustrated sometimes myself and emotional. This is personal, this is really important. You don’t go into teaching unless you really love it. So I understand that emotion,” Spearman said. “I want us to channel that emotion together and work together.”

Spearman spent the day of the rally as a substitute teacher in a nearby school, prompting thunderous chants of “Where is Molly?” several times.

“Molly is right here,” Spearman said Thursday.

Jefferson said she thinks there is a movement growing to change education in South Carolina.

“People are listening to our voices and they see that we’re talking about our struggles, our students’ struggles and the different things we need as teachers, and I think that as they notice, things will begin to change,” Jefferson said,