SUMMERVILLE - Many teachers know from an early age that they want to go into the profession.

Summerville High School teacher Alice Kelley didn't, but that was where she wound up a decade ago. Now, Kelley is Dorchester District 2's Teacher of the Year.

"I'm not much different than many of our students when I say I had no idea in high school what I wanted to be when I grew up," Kelley, a science and engineering teacher, wrote in her application essay. "It took me a bit longer to grasp what I was good at and where my niche in life would fall."

Kelley was a licensed social worker when she decided to switch professions.

"Although this career path was rewarding, it was not until I was afforded the opportunity to become a teacher through the (state's) Critical Needs Program that I really found my passion in life," she wrote.

Kelley said she knew from the week she started teaching that she was in the right place.

"I find teaching to be the great movie of life," she said. "All the criteria we want to see in a great movie can be found in our everyday profession. It makes me cry a little and laugh a lot. It brings moments of doubts and moments of triumph."

Kelley was named Rookie of the Year at Summerville in 2000. She taught at Pinewood Prep from 2004 to 2008 and Fort Dorchester High from 2008 to 2010 before returning to Summerville High in 2010.

Last year, she took the helm of Summerville's engineering department and established the school's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy.

Kelley "is a phenomenal educator who possesses countless commendable professional attributes as well as a wide array of talents, skills and personal goals that drive her," said Summerville principal Kenny Farrell.

After she was named to the honor, Kelley said her husband urged her to prepare a speech in case she won.

"How do you prepare a speech for an honor like this?" she said. "I am blessed and amazed. The reason I stand here is because of you guys," she said of her colleagues.

Other finalists for the honor were Pren Woods, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Alston Middle; Kimberly Freeman, a seventh-, ninth-, 10th-grade English teacher at Givhans Alternative Program; Brooke Matthews, health and physical education teacher at Gregg Middle; and Priscilla Johnson, second-grade teacher at Windsor Hill Arts Infused Elementary.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.