Beth Tuten, a 1996 graduate of Erskine College and a board-certified special education teacher, is one of five finalists for South Carolina Teacher of the Year announced by State Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais March 4.
“They have been chosen from among nearly 50,000 classroom teachers and are being recognized for their hard work and classroom achievements,” Zais said of the finalists. “Let’s applaud the difference they’re making in the lives of their students.”
Selection as a finalist for Teacher of the Year is just one of the honors and awards Tuten has received recently.
She is Teacher of the Year for Lexington District Four, where she teaches at Swansea High School, and at this year’s state Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) conference in February she was named South Carolina CEC Teacher of the Year.
The day after she was named CEC Educator of the Year, the state superintendent called to tell her that she was a finalist for South Carolina Teacher of the Year.
“I was stunned,” Tuten said. “I remember saying ‘Wow!’ many times while talking to Dr. Zais.”
Apart from her exclamations during the phone conversation, however, she had to keep everything bottled up.
“When I got the call I was surrounded by my coworkers and friends at the CEC conference, but I was asked not to say anything about being a finalist until after the press release later in the week,” she recalled. “It was difficult talking to my friends and family and not telling them my exciting news!”
After graduating from Erskine with a degree in special education and music education, Tuten earned a master of music degree in vocal performance and a master of education degree in educational administration from the University of South Carolina.
“I thank the Lord for allowing me to receive these amazing honors this year,” she said. “I wish every person could experience this degree of recognition and appreciation. All praise and honor goes to the Lord for equipping me so perfectly for the teaching profession.”
Tuten and the other South Carolina Teacher of the Year finalists were chosen by a panel of educators and private citizens. Names of the teachers and their schools were concealed from the judges during the selection process. The finalists will travel to Columbia for personal interviews with a seven-member state selection committee.
South Carolina’s Teacher of the Year will receive a $25,000 cash award and a new BMW to use for one year, according to a press release from the South Carolina State Department of Education. The winner will also participate in a one-year residency program at the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) and will serve as a statewide ambassador for the teaching profession. The other four finalists, known as Honor Roll teachers, will each receive $10,000.
The five finalists as well as school district winners will be honored at the annual Teacher of the Year gala, set for April 23 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
As she looks forward to the Teacher of the Year announcement and celebration, Tuten believes she is blessed.
“I thank the Lord that I am able to use my God-given gifts in my area of passion and get paid to do it!”
In addition to her work as an educator, Tuten serves as co-director of Camp Joy SC, a summer camp for individuals with special needs run by the ARP Church; volunteers with Special Olympics; and sings with Palmetto Voices, a professional choir. She serves her church as a vocalist with the worship arts team and leads mission trips to Belize, where she works to develop programs for people with intellectual disabilities in the public schools and in the community.