Lauren Eckman, Georgia Teacher of the Year for 2013
Wesleyan alumna Teacher of the Year
At about five or six years old, Lauren Eckman ’04, an English instructor at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon, began teaching her school lessons to her grandmother and the stuffed animals on her bed. She even gave out restroom passes and homework. “Granny was always a good sport,” Lauren claimed.
The role-playing when she was a child helped lay the foundation for a teaching career. Now thirty years old, Lauren is the newest Georgia Teacher of the Year and the second Middle Georgia educator to win the title in as many years. Lauren will tour the state and vie for the title of National Teacher of the Year.
“I just didn’t expect to be selected,” Lauren said. “Any one of (the ten finalists) would have been a great representative for teacher of the year.”
Comments from one of Lauren’s former students were read aloud at a banquet where she received the honor. Lauren said she began shaking as she realized she was the winner.
“Lauren Eckman is going to be a fantastic representative of the teaching profession in Georgia,” state School Superintendent John Barge said in a news release. “With the population of students she serves, she is highly proficient at differentiating instruction and making strong connections with her students. These will be valuable skills to share with other educators throughout the state.”
Lauren thanked teachers, staff and others during her speech at the ceremony but said she worried about becoming too emotional if she mentioned her grandmother, who died in February after a fifteen-year battle with dementia. “I wouldn’t be where I am without her,” she said.
Lauren considers her grandmother one of the most influential people in her life. “She’s never known the influence in my career,” Lauren said. “I believe she knows now.”
Lauren, who grew up in Douglasville, said she “always knew in some form or fashion” that she wanted to be a teacher, though she developed an “extreme love of literature” as a high school senior. Lauren said she tries to bring the stories to life in her classroom by using humor and reading aloud, especially for students who have recently lost their eyesight and haven’t yet mastered reading Braille.
Before Lauren started teaching at the blind academy in 2004, she spent three months as a student teacher there in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan College. Today, she also has a master’s degree from the University of Louisville and is working on a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Lauren worked with social studies teacher Angela Touchton, who also works at the blind academy, during her student teaching days. She considers Touchton a mentor. “Lauren was a good teacher when she walked in the door,” Touchton said. “She’s only gotten better.”
During Lauren’s time as a teacher, her students have been successful, even after they graduate from the academy. All of them passed the Georgia High School Graduation Writing Test –– a requisite for a general high school diploma –– in seven of the past eight years. Lauren said her students have graduated from institutions such as Morehouse College and Georgia College & State University and are pursuing careers in fields as varied as technology, criminal justice, social work and pharmacology.
While Lauren said it was an “amazing and humbling experience” to be named the state’s teacher of the year, she said the honor is more of an opportunity to highlight the blind academy and its students. “That has been the greatest part of it –– it’s not about you, it’s about the kids,” she said. “It’s amazing to have the kids recognized, for people to see what talent they have.”
Lauren graduated summa cum laude from Wesleyan in 2004, with a major in English with secondary certification. She was in the Honors Program, received Departmental Honors. According to Dr. Mae Sheftall, Associate Professor of Education at Wesleyan, “I am not surprised that she received this honor, given her diligence and dedication to children, especially special needs students. She is definitely one of Wesleyan’s shining stars and is the crème de la crème from Wesleyan.”