Julie Sikes, an 11th grade US History teacher at Claxton High School, received notification last week from Education First (EF) that she was selected as one of six finalists across the United States in a “Super Teacher” contest.
Sikes had no idea that one of her students, Stephan Bellamy, nominated her for the contest until she received the winning phone call.
“I was pressure washing my house and didn’t answer the phone,” said Sikes. Laughing, she added, “I thought it was a telemarketer, and I didn’t stop what I was doing.” It wasn’t until much later in the day that she got the message from EF that she was one of six finalists.
Education First offers tours for students with a mission to “open the world through education” and sponsors the contest to recognize and honor some of the “world’s greatest unsung heroes.” The annual contest selects teachers from student nominations, and then winners are chosen by a online voting process.
Sikes hopes many will go online to vote for her, because the $2,500 prize money benefits her school.
Bellamy answered two questions about his teacher. When asked if his teacher had superpowers, what would they be and why, Bellamy wrote, “Since Mrs. Sikes has such great kindness, patience and goodness in her heart, her superpower would be love, and not just any kind of love, a special love. Her power would transform anyone around her to immediately feel the best they ever will feel in their life.
“She can turn a worst day into the best and wipe away any tears of sadness and transform them into tears of joy. Peace would overflow like a gracious waterfall.”
Bellamy pointed out in his nomination form that his teacher already possessed these “superpowers.”
“Her presence always lights up a room, and her love for others easily brings them in a good mood. Even a villain would stop their evil ways and pursue a better life with the help of Mrs. Sikes.”
Sikes said she was elated to get the news and immediately emailed her student a letter of appreciation. Sikes, like other teachers, hasn’t been able to see her students in-person since the pandemic caused schools to close.
“I miss my hugs,” she said. Sikes said that her students have to give her a hug, fist bump or high-five before entering the room. “Most choose hugs,” she said. “And if I’m not there, they’ll line up at the door like first graders and wait for me. My classroom is their safe place, and they know that.”
She said other students, not in her class, often ask for a hug and she readily gives them away, too.
It’s no wonder that Bellamy mentioned Sikes’ special kind of love, because that seems to be the high school teacher’s philosophy.
“I tell new teachers that they don’t need classroom management, that’s not the priority. ‘Love them first’ – that’s my motto. You have to care about them outside of the classroom.”
To answer the question, “What makes your teacher so super?” Bellamy wrote: "With her positive energy and kindness toward all students, Mrs. Sikes is the epitome of a superhero. Even during hard times like these, she makes sure to keep in contact with all of us and always puts a smile on my face when I least expect it.
“Mrs. Sikes is more than just a teacher – she’s a role model and a friend. She loves all her students as if we’re family, and she demonstrates her care through all her selfless acts, including a plan to take us all on a field trip she funded herself. Sadly, the coronavirus has obstructed a lot of her plans for us, but even today she virtually communicates with us and makes sure we’re okay. Mrs. Sikes is a hero indeed."
Sikes, who said she first considered becoming a nurse to help people, changed her mind because her husband was an ER nurse, and they both thought it would be difficult to raise a family with that schedule.
“Teaching was my next choice,” said Sikes. “And that’s definitely where God wanted me to be. It’s my mission. School is my mission field.”
To vote for Sikes before the contest ends just before midnight Thursday, go to https://ef.wishpondpages.com/teacher-appreciation/entries/189147936 and follow the prompts.