Carmel Dodson wasn’t so much surprised when Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton strolled into her third-grade room at Port St. Joe Elementary School.
As Dodson said later, she was a bit frightened.
Any fear was unwarranted, as highlighted by the decorative plant Norton was carrying, as Norton’s arrival was to recognize Dodson as Gulf District Schools Teacher of the Year for 2013.
Dodson, a reading teacher at the elementary school, was selected from fellow finalists T.C. Brewer, a science teacher from Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School; Jay Bidwell, who teaches Spanish at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School; and language arts teacher Misty Harper from Wewahitchka Elementary School.
All four were voted their respective school’s teacher of the year by their peers. All were evaluated by an out-of-county group last week.
“This is more scary than the evaluation,” Dodson said after composing herself and wiping a few tears away. “I really just can’t believe this; that is about all I can say. I give everything, my heart, every day. There are a lot of deserving teachers who do the same thing.
“The kids teach me, my co-teachers teach me as I teach them. It is a team effort every day, 24 hours a day.”
That team effort was on full display as Norton arrived.
Third grade teachers had their students huddled and waiting in the third grade pod and the kids poured in to clap and hoot for their Ms. Dodson.
Dodson is known as a caring and devoted teacher, one who goes the extra mile for students, from writing grants to the Gulf Education Foundation to bring innovative programs into the classroom to spearheading the creation of the school’s butterfly garden.
She is particularly involved, said Port St. Joe Elementary School Principal Sue Gannon, in assisting those who struggle.
“Carmel is a great teacher, very innovative,” Gannon said. “She is always looking for ways to help her students, whether working on their weaknesses or playing to their strengths.
“She is very much concerned about those students with special needs, who might not come from a great home life, who struggle in the classroom, who might not be our top students.”
Or, as her former principal Melissa Ramsey, now the district supervisor for curriculum and testing, Dodson’s heart is always evident.
Whether pulling from her own pocket money for a child’s lunch or class supplies, or allowing a child in a tough home situation the safety of her home, Dodson is present when her students need her, Ramsey said.
“She is a nurturer, that is a good word to describe her,” Ramsey said. “She donates her time, energy and money to her students.
“She wholeheartedly cares about her students. She is totally dedicated and gives above and beyond every single day. I put her wherever there was a need, she is that good and caring with her students.”
Dodson will go on to represent the district in state Teacher of the Year competition, the winner to be announced in the spring during a convention in Orlando.
As Gulf County’s Teacher of the Year, Dodson will attend the convention and participate in a series of workshops.
“This is an ‘A’ school and I can’t think of a better honor,” Norton said after hugging Dodson. “We are honored to honor her.”