ST. GEORGE -- Jennifer Durr, Dorchester District 4's 2010 Teacher of the Year, got choked up when she talked about why she loves to teach kindergartners.
When her students at Williams Memorial Elementary School saw her tears, they gathered around her to give her hugs.
Students who are 5 and 6 years old make remarkable progress in a year, Durr said. She recalled a student who couldn't spell her name on the first day of school. But Thursday, the day before the kindergarten graduation ceremony, that student was reading at a first-grade level.
Durr's students think she's fabulous.
"She's great and she makes us smart," said Deandre Waites.
Kyheim Lemon said Durr once used candy to teach a math lesson. When it was over, he got to eat it.
Durr is the fourth consecutive Williams Memorial Elementary teacher to be selected teacher of the year in the district, which encompasses the mostly rural upper Dorchester County area. She said she felt a lot of pressure not to break the streak, she said.
Durr was honored at a celebration at Woodland High School on Thursday evening, along with the top teachers from each of the district's school, and other top employees.
Superintendent Jerry Montjoy said each school selects not only a top teacher, but a top employee from each department including custodial workers, clerical staff and bus drivers. "It's a team-building thing," Montjoy said. "Everybody is important and everybody has a job."
Montjoy said he's glad a kindergarten teacher won this year, because quality early childhood teachers are vital to giving students a good academic start.
Durr said she's been teaching elementary school for five years, but this was the first year she taught kindergarten. She had been waiting for an opening in kindergarten, and was glad when the job became available.
Williams Memorial Elementary Principal Jeffrey Beckwith said kindergarten teachers have a tough job at his growing school because there are about 27 or 28 students in each of the school's four kindergarten classes. Each class also has a teaching assistant, but it can be still be tough to hold the attention of that many young children.
Durr has what it takes to succeed in those conditions, he said. "She's a glass-half-full type of person."