MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina State Superintendent of Education, Molly M. Spearman, announced that Dr. Leah Barley, a teacher at Royall Elementary School in Florence School District One, and Joey Trail, a teacher at Forestbrook Middle School in Horry County Schools, are both finalists for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year award.
Barley teaches language and writing in grades first through sixth, as well as serving as an education and leadership professor.
Barley said her typical start to the school week quickly became overwhelming Monday morning when she saw the state superintendent walk into her classroom.
"I am very overwhelmed and excited and very happy to represent my district and the state of South Carolina. It was quite a surprise when the superintendent of education and your superintendent and principal walk through the door on a regular Monday morning. It's no longer a regular Monday morning in here. I'm very honored and excited," said Barley.
Barley attributes her success in the classroom to building positive relationships with students, parents and the school community.
She believes her greatest contribution in education is giving back to the profession by mentoring novice teachers, which she achieves by serving as a teacher cadet and new teacher mentor.
"Leah is deserving of this special recognition," said Spearman. "She is a model educator and an excellent representative for Florence District One for this year's statewide competition."
Joey Trail said he was completely caught off guard by the surprise visit, but was definitely honored to be a finalist.
"It feels awesome. It's a huge validation," said Trail.
The seventh grade English and language arts teacher worked in the field of entertainment for 16 years, but recognized that he wanted to focus on his passion for youth advocacy.
He decided to enter the teaching profession and uses his skills in entertainment to engage his students.
Trail aims to strengthen the teaching profession by reminding his colleagues of the importance of student-teacher relationships. He currently serves as a mentor for new teachers at his school.
"You've got someone's precious miracle that is coming to you each day. That's a big responsibility, so you've got to remind yourself of that often," said Trail.
Every March, five educators are named finalists for the award. Both Barley and Trail were selected out of 42 teachers in 82 school districts within the state.
At the annual gala on April 20, one teacher will be selected as the state's winner and go on to represent South Carolina during the National Teacher of the Year competition.
The state's winner receives $25,000 and gets to drive a brand new BMW for one year while advocating for teachers across South Carolina.
Trail said even if he doesn't win, he is honored to have made it to the finalist round. His ultimate goal is to inspire other educators.
"I try to tell new teachers, 'Remind yourself daily of why you do it, and to validate yourself if no one else is validating you, and don't forget your sole purpose,'" Trail explained. "It's usually not the content. It's not about ELA (English language arts) or science. At the end of the day, it's about trying to raise good kids."