When Lydia Stewart was asked whether she wanted to go on to the next level after being named Prince William County’s Teacher of the Year, her thoughts immediately went to her students.
“I can honestly say I did it for them,” the Osbourn Park High School special education teacher said of pursing the nomination for Virginia Teacher of the Year.
“If my students found out I had this opportunity and didn’t take it, what message is that giving them?” Stewart said. “We have to set the example.”
Last week, Prince William County School Superintendent Steven L. Walts — flanked by School Board member Michael I. Otaigbe (Coles), Principal Neil Beech and Stewart’s son, Jordan (an Osbourn Park junior) — surprised Stewart with the announcement that she was named the Virginia Region IV Teacher of the Year.
Stewart, along with seven other teachers from across the state, will be considered for the 2013 Virginia Teacher of the Year award, to be announced Oct. 12 in Richmond.
It’s another honor for the teacher who in May received an Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.
“She’s an exemplary professional in every way,” Beech said.
That was evident from the first day of her teaching career at Benton Middle School in Manassas. It was Sept. 11, 2001.
“I had to go back to the classroom with my game face on and continue the day,” she said.
Stewart credits her parents for her teaching skills. Her father, a Baptist minister in Birmingham, Ala., taught her to command an audience.
“He knew what to say to get people to think, and I try to do that everyday,” Stewart said.
Her mother, a Head Start teacher, “taught me to literally think outside the box. It’s not just books and papers,” she said.
For Stewart, who teaches students with profound intellectual difficulties, her job is also about teaching basic life skills and having her students apply what they learn.
“I have to instill the desire for them to do more, achieve more even when others may not see that. I have to have [the students] see it in themselves. The job of a teacher is probably one of the most challenging,” she said. “You’re shaping lives.”