Judith M. Mealing could have been the person filling your prescription at a local drug store.
Those were her plans after graduating from Butler High School in 1965.
Her plans, while pursuing a pharmacy degree at the University of Georgia, changed when someone asked her to marry him.
Her fiance - an Augustan attending Georgia Institute of Technology - suggested they move back to Augusta, get married and attend Augusta State University.
She then decided to become a science teacher and never regretted her choice after beginning her teaching career in 1970 at a Graniteville school.
"A teacher in Graniteville told me, `We don't have a lot of money, but the students are in need of a caring teacher,"' Mrs. Mealing said. "And I really cared about them. My compassionate nature was fostered in Graniteville. It was a wonderful introduction to teaching."
Her career, which has taken her as far away as Kansas, brought her back to Richmond County in 1989 as a science teacher for Hephzibah High School. Two years later, she began teaching chemistry and biology at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School.
Her skills at A.R. Johnson have landed her recognition in Richmond County as one of its finalists for Teacher of the Year.
She and four other teachers were chosen by district administrators from a list of 58 nominees. Other finalists are: Rosita Alston-Grissom, a math teacher at Glenn Hills High School; Carol Scharff, a third-grade teacher at Barton Chapel Elementary; Nmaobi Uzochukwu, a physical science and physics teacher at Westside High; and Jennifer White, a fourth-grade teacher at Goshen Elementary School.
The winner will be announced Monday during a banquet at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta at 7 p.m. The winner will take over the position held by Julie Purvis, a math teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School.
Mrs. Mealing's sense of humor is one of the things that stands out in her classroom.
During a recent human anatomy and physiology class, she stood in front of the class reviewing functions of the skeleton.
She used her body to demonstrate where particular bones are located.
As the class discussed ways mechanical stress affects bones and the importance of exercise, Mrs. Mealing told the class about an experience she had at her health club.
"The new thing at health clubs is spinning," she told the students, demonstrating how she climbed on the club's bike and began pedaling. "When I got through with that class, I couldn't get off the bike. My muscles were quivering and I said, `I'll get my cardiovascular some other way."'
The students laughed.
April Gray, a senior, said the spinning scenario is an example of how Mrs. Mealing makes the class interesting.
"She gives us real-life examples," April said. "She makes it fun. We get to ask questions during the lessons and she gives us in-depth information so that we know what's going on. She doesn't try to trick us."
Between classes, students stopped to ask Mrs. Mealing to write letters of references for scholarships and asked her opinion on science projects.
Some stopped in to tease her about the person who "kidnapped" the board on which she writes SAT vocabulary words.
The kidnapper left a note requesting $50 in unmarked nickels.
Mrs. Mealing teased the students, saying she would not give them the nickels and would fail those responsible.
The camaraderie with her students is another method used to keep them interested.
"I believe learning should be fun," she said. "When you have someone crazy like me in the classroom, it's fun. If it's dull, they won't remember anything."
A native of Hampton, S.C., Mrs. Mealing said her kindergarten teacher - Annie Anderson - influenced her teaching method.
"She was a sweet little old lady and had lots of hands-on activities for us to do," Mrs. Mealing said. "She always had a smile on her face and always had something positive to say to the students."
The highlight of her teaching career has been the friendships she's made with her students. She still keeps in contact with many who graduated long ago.
And when the 53-year-old teacher retires, which she says won't happen anytime soon, she hopes to leave a legacy of having taught students something they can use in college and in their everyday lives.
"I think one of the most memorable things a teacher can do is turn on the light bulb in a student's eyes," she said. "To make somebody understand something that they had not understood before. You can't put a value on that."
Her principal says you can't put a value on good teachers.
Vivian C. Pennamon, principal of A.R. Johnson, said Mrs. Mealing represents the school well and would do the same for the county.
"Mrs. Mealing is well-respected by her peers and her students," Dr. Pennamon said. "She is innovative, very supportive, and readily gives assistance when asked. Her room is always filled with colleagues seeking her assistance and advisement. She is very deserving of the recognition."
Mrs. Mealing said recognition as a Teacher of the Year finalist is exciting.
"It is the most outstanding educational honor I've ever received," she said. "I was dumbfounded when I was told."
Even without the recognition, Mrs. Mealing said she hopes she is making a difference.
"I have a lot of fun teaching," she said. "I'm energetic and like what I'm doing. It keeps you young."
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.
Family: Son, Joel, 24
Education: Bachelor of science in biology from Augusta College and master's degree in science teaching from Clemson University
Years teaching: 29, in Graniteville, Pickens County and Wichita, Kansas. She started in Richmond County in 1989 at Hephzibah High School, then became a teacher at A.R. Johnson in 1991.
Honors: Teacher of the Year at A.R. Johnson, 1997-98, Outstanding Science Teacher at Hephzibah High in 1990; Teacher of the Year at Pickens High School.
Motto: "Learning is fun."
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