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‘Snazzy’ celebration for teachers of the year

Pretty snazzy.

That’s the best way to describe my trip to the annual Teacher of the Year celebration at the Universal Hard Rock Café this past weekend.

I was there to celebrate with my wife Kelley, Baker County’s District Teacher of the Year. It was quite a soiree.

The venue was amazing. Macy’s puts over $100,000 into the three-day celebration hosted by Inside Edition anchor Deborah Norville and Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson.

Macy’s makes no bones about why they throw their corporate support behind the event. The president of Macy’s said that out of 180,000 public school teachers in Florida, the ones being honored at the gala were judged to be the top 68 in the state.

Pretty heady stuff.

Kelley made me wear a tuxedo for the event and I worried that I might be overdressed. I should have listened to her. I fit right in with the event’s tone.

Superintendent Sherrie Raulerson was one of a handful of district superintendents to make the trip to the Hard Rock Universal venue in Orlando. Supt. Raulerson was herself Baker County’s Teacher of the Year and understood what an honor it is to anyone in the profession. She has been very supportive of Kelley and didn’t want to miss the gala.

Our son Dylan came down and Kelley invited her former English teacher and BCHS mentor Betty Sands and her daughter Kelly to the event.

Betty had been instrumental in Kelley’s decision to become a teacher. Along with Kelley’s Aunt June Alderman, they were two of the educators along with Barbara Ritchey whom Kelley admired and wanted to emulate when she was a student trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

Kelley was excited that her Aunt June would be coming with her daughter Carla, the Pasco County Teacher of the Year. At the last minute June’s eye surgery prevented the entire family of educators from sharing the special honor.

Kelley and Carla were mentioned often at the various functions. It was the first time in the 23-year history of the event that anyone, including the Commissioner of Education, could remember first cousins both being the top teacher in their districts.

Most of the week’s events were held downtown in the Grand Bohemian Hotel. Unlike some soirees, this one included lots of work. The teachers went through workshops where they listened to guest speakers and compared their “best practices,” things that they did that worked in their classrooms.

Not a spa day to be had.

Well … at least not for them.

Me, I didn’t have anything I had to do. I wandered around and rubbed shoulders with the NBA stars that were also in the hotel for the NBA summer league. Several times I got to see my absolute favorite NBA player of all time, Larry Bird, who is an executive with the Indiana Pacers. I’m not going to say I stalked him like a 13-year-old at a Justin Beiber concert, but I did ride the elevator more than usual.

Of course, I couldn’t get up the nerve to regale Larry with my memory of the night Kelley and I watched him, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Robert Parrish, and the rest of the Celtics give a schooling to Scotty Pippin and some young upstart named Jordan and his Chicago Bulls.

I was star-struck to the point that my elevator picture of the NBA Hall of Famer was blurry because I couldn’t keep my hand still.

In the end the state Teacher of the Year was chosen. Alex Lopes teaches autistic kids in Miami and after watching the video that Macy’s produced about him there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I was happy for him because if he is a better teacher than my wife, he must be something pretty special.

It was great to see Kelley and the other 67 teachers on stage getting the recognition they deserve. I know how much hard work they put in.

Being a teacher, you’re often thankful for a kind word from a student or a pack of pens and post-it notes in pre-planning.

To be feted like they did in Orlando makes you feel like a celebrity.

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