The key to Traci Cooper's success is relationships.
That's what Denise Turner, a kindergarten teacher at Warren Road Elementary School, surmised after visiting Cooper's sixth-grade English language arts classroom at Pine Hill Middle School.
That's also what Cooper ultimately credited with propelling her to become the Richmond County Teacher of the Year -- relationships with God, her family, her pupils and her colleagues.
Cooper gave a tearful acceptance speech after Superintendent Dr. Frank Roberson made the announcement Wednesday night at the Oglethorpe Ballroom in the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites.
"First, I just want to say, 'Praise God.' That's all I can say," she said. "It gives me great pleasure to stand before you tonight. As I am positioned here, I can feel the regeneration of the purpose of what I do in the classroom -- that I teach and touch lives."
It's been a humbling series of events for Cooper. She was the school's first Teacher of the Year, as Pine Hill opened in August 2009. She was one of five finalists for the district award, then she won the big prize, which makes her eligible for the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.
"That title in itself is highly regarded, but as for being the first at Pine Hill Middle School since it opened -- I could not possess it without the divinely ordained power of God and the creativity and abilities he has given me," Cooper said between sobs. "My gratefulness goes beyond any measure."
Turner recalled the passion Cooper showed when talking of former pupils, some of whom had "unorthodox learning styles."
"She believes the object of teaching a child is to enable the child to get along without the teacher," Turner said, quoting a poster in Cooper's classroom.
Before making the big announcement, Roberson said any Richmond County public school teacher would be eligible for the district's top award.
"The children in Richmond County are quite fortunate to have you as their teacher," he said. "This community should celebrate the caliber of quality that exists in you as teachers in this county.
"The unfortunate thing," he added a little later, "is that we can only select one. And that one ..."
After a series of pauses that drew gasps and even a few groans, he said, "This individual -- the children's teacher ... teaches every single day at ... Pine Hill Middle School."
The room erupted in applause.