Aiken County's top teacher for 2015-16 is a finalist for South Carolina's Teacher of the Year.
Dr. Elisabeth Hardy, a North Augusta High School Advanced Placement English teacher, learned about the honor from the state school superintendent, Molly Spearman, who visited the school Tuesday and made the announcement, according to a news release from the school.
Hardy could not be present because she was in Charleston with her husband, who has cancer, for a medical appointment, so officials called her on the phone.
Spearman told teachers and the student body about Hardy's honor.
"This is an incredible honor for her, for your school and for the Aiken County School District," Spearman said. "It means that she is one of the top five teachers in the state of South Carolina - and there are over 60,000 of them - so that means she is really a fantastic teacher and a great representative of the teachers here."
The winner of the State Teacher of the Year Award will be announced in May.
"Oh my goodness! This is just icing on the cake, and this is too wonderful," Hardy said, according to the release. "To be one of the top five of such an amazing group of educators across the state, I just cannot even find the words (to say). I am just so excited to represent such an amazing school district and so many amazing teachers."
Aiken County Superintendent Sean Alford said Hardy represents the best of the teaching profession.
"Excellent teachers are the foundation of any high-quality educational endeavor and here in Aiken County we are thrilled to have one of the top teaching professionals in the nation," he said. "Dr. Hardy has served as an outstanding role model as our school district's current Teacher of the Year, and I cannot think of a better teacher or a better person to best represent the great teachers of South Carolina."
North Augusta High School Principal John Murphy said Hardy stands out because of her passion for family, students and education.
"I think she is a phenomenal teacher and we are very proud to have her," he said.
One of Hardy's students, sophomore Kristen Wahl, heard the call between Hardy and Spearman.
"I feel very proud of her. She is an awesome person," Wahl said. "She is the nicest teacher that I have had, and I have been all over the country. She is amazing. You can see that she understands you."
Hardy, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson Academy, has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Georgia and a master's and doctorate from Georgia Southern University, has the unenviable job of getting high school students to appreciate literature.
In an interview after she won county Teacher of the Year, she said she tries to make old stories relevant to a new generation.
Through Beowulf, for example, she teaches about oral tradition, the power of words and how history's victors get to write the history books.
"I try to give them a view of human experience so they can relate it to themselves and the world - who they are," she said. "In that comes literacy, writing skills and communication. Once they realize there's a thread they can hold on to, all that comes extra."
And it works, Hardy said.
"They go from saying, ‘Why do we have to read this?' to talking about it so much I have to say, ‘You have to stop talking now, someone else has to talk. And if they can love Anglo-Saxon literature, they can love anything," she said.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org