By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Kathy Waycaster spent five years working as an interventionist and a reading coach in the Lee County School District.
In those two roles, she helped struggling students and worked with other teachers to help them improve their craft.
But the educator missed the classroom too much and returned to it in August, when she became a third-grade teacher at Shannon Elementary. Six months later, she was named the Lee County School District’s Teacher of the Year.
“I just missed it,” she said of her desire to return to teaching. “I feel more comfortable teaching these children.
“Being an academic coach, the district afforded me an opportunity to learn so much, and I was anxious to go back into the classroom and try to put into practice what I had learned.”
Waycaster was honored during the district’s regular school board meeting at its central office on Monday night. She will advance to the state Teacher of the Year competition.
Although she long had a desire to teach, Waycaster did not do so until she was 34, when her youngest child entered first grade. She started teaching in 1999 and has taught first, second and third grades. She also is National Board certified.
“She is the very definition of a teacher,” said Shannon Elementary Principal Allen Stanford. “She has as much care for her students as she does for her own well being, or even more so.
“She is everything you want to see in a teacher, from a public perspective or from an educational perspective.”
Fellow Shannon Elementary teachers Sonya Williams and Kristi Byars cited Waycaster’s passion to study strategies to help students learn and her ability to help other teachers improve.
Waycaster said she is inspired to teach by her desire to make an impact and her belief that all children can be successful.
“I’ve thought, when my life is over, I want to have made a positive difference on the Earth, and what better way to do so than through working with children,” she said.
She also said she is proud of the Lee County School District, of which she is a product. Waycaster attended Verona Elementary and graduated from Shannon High in 1983.
She and her husband, Greg, have two children Will, 24, and Hannah, 21.
“I’ve always felt we are the best-kept secret in the state,” she said of the school district.
Also honored on Monday were the Teachers of the Year for each of the Lee County School District’s individual schools: Trisha Holiman (Guntown Middle School), Kimberly Jenkins (Mooreville Elementary), Angie Webb (Mooreville Middle), Janelle Keith (Mooreville High), Shannon Harlow (Plantersville Middle), Cindy Parker (Saltillo Elementary), Melissa Sandlin (Saltillo High), Kim Evans (Saltillo Primary), Waycaster (Shannon Elementary), Tracy Leake (Shannon Middle), William Pruitt (Shannon High), Maggie Montgomery (Shannon Primary), Jihada Williams (Verona Elementary) and Billy Ray Sneed (Improvement Center).