Coach Elizabeth J. “Liz” Driggers, who teaches health and physical education at Statesboro High School and says that everything about her subject is relevant to students’ lives today, is the Bulloch County Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2017.
That’s right, 2017. District-level teachers of the year are designated a year and a half in advance to compete for first the state, and potentially the national, honors.
Driggers, also Statesboro High’s head competitive cheerleading coach and an assistant coach for girls’ soccer, expressed what sounded like next-level surprise when named to the county honor during a reception Thursday evening at the William James Educational Complex.
But after suggesting, “Reach down and touch your toes” as part of a health teacher’s spur-of-the-moment acceptance speech, she rallied.
“You’re not a teacher for any other reason than … the relationships that you maintain and the impact that you have,” Driggers said, “and a lot of times they say that P.E. teachers don’t matter. “But we do.”
Like other school-level Teacher of the Year honorees who competed for the county award, Driggers had answered essay questions related to teaching as part of the application process.
“The great thing about teaching health is that it is all relevant,” she wrote. “Today’s young people are experiencing things that they are not equipped mentally, emotionally or physically to handle. Health curriculum helps them discover that what they are experiencing is not abnormal. Physical education teaches them life skills.”
Driggers uses some creative techniques, sometimes to engage the minds of her students, and sometimes to take their minds off the hard work they are doing.
One game her students enjoy, she said, is plank hockey. Two students get down into plank position, as if for pushups, and face each other. One student’s arms serve as the goal while the other tries to score with a ball. Meanwhile, they scarcely realize the workout this gives their shoulders, abs and legs.
“She is viewed as a teacher who will use any method to help any student,” Chad Prosser, Statesboro High athletic director and an assistant principal, said in a letter supporting Driggers’ award application.
“Her lessons are engaging and they teach students the value of physical education as a life-long skill,” Prosser wrote. “She is part of the school’s improvement process as a leadership team member. She consistently looks for areas of improvement for herself and our school.”
Driggers, 29, has been a teacher at Statesboro High School for six years, after starting her career as a teaching paraprofessional, first for one year at Southeast Bulloch High and one year at Brooklet Elementary. She has a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Georgia Southern University, a master’s in kinesiology from GSU and a specialist’s degree in the pedagogy of coaching from Valdosta State University.
Originally from St. Marys, she moved to Statesboro after meeting her husband, Derrick, a Statesboro High alumnus.
Billy Yawn, treasurer of the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education, presented Driggers a $1,000 check. Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson noted that the foundation now provides more than $20,000 in grants annually to classroom teachers for innovative projects and $7,500 each year for the local REACH Georgia Scholarship program.
The faculty and staff at each of the 15 Bulloch County public schools selected their Teacher of the Year honorees in May.
The teachers who wished to compete for the county award then completed the application provided by the Georgia Department of Education. Three letters of recommendation were also required.
With names and school identities removed, the applications were judged by a panel from the GSU College of Education, the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education, the Board of Education, and the Bulloch County Retired Educators Association, Wilson said.
Driggers will represent Bulloch County in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition in May 2016.
Bulloch County has had two state winners. Jemelleh Coes, then a teacher at Langston Chapel Middle School, reigned as 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year. Julie Lanier, then a teacher at Marvin Pittman Laboratory School, which has since been closed, was the 1985 Georgia Teacher of the Year.
In the past seven years, four of the Bulloch County Schools’ teachers of the year have been named top-ten finalists in the statewide competition.
15 school honorees
The other candidates for 2017 Bulloch County Teacher of the Year were Krista Branch, Brooklet Elementary; Melissa Bazemore, Julia P. Bryant Elementary; Amanda Prather, Langston Chapel Elementary; Travis Brooks, Langston Chapel Middle; Rachel Pritchard Murray, Mattie Lively Elementary; Ashley Joyner, Mill Creek Elementary; Bob Massee, Nevils Elementary; Tosha Johnson, Portal Elementary; Shannon Hattaway, Portal Middle High; David Brown, Sallie Zetterower Elementary; Shannon Robertson, Southeast Bulloch Middle; Ansley Burke, Southeast Bulloch High; Jenny Hendrix, Stilson Elementary; and Autumn Horton, William James Middle.
Thursday’s announcement process revealed Branch, Driggers, Hendrix, Massee and Murray as the final five. Branch, who teaches fifth-grade math and science at Brooklet, was the county runner-up.
All 15 are Teachers of the Year at their schools. Individual schools grant their honorees certain privileges, often including a designated parking space and relief from some routine duties.
Of the 15 school-level honorees, 10 competed as finalists for the county title, reported Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools’ public relations specialist. Some school honorees opt out because of the amount of travel and time that would be required if they won at the state level.
“If they win the state title there is significant travel involved,” Greene said. “You actually go on a year’s sabbatical because you represent the state.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.