COLUMBIA - She didn't walk away with the title that all teachers in the state secretly hope to get, but Pamela Simpson is $10,000 richer.
That's her cash prize for being one of five finalists in the South Carolina Teacher of the Year contest Saturday night in Columbia. She also won a laptop computer, courtesy of Westinghouse Savannah River Co. and a digital camera and scads of doodads to use in her classroom at Chukker Creek Elementary School.
She missed out on the $25,000, a BMW Z-3 roadster to tool around in for a year and a yearlong sabbatical, but she did help Aiken County make history Saturday.
Never in the 36 years that the state has named a top teacher have two from the same county - and the same school - been back-to-back finalists. Dale Smith, who also teaches at Chukker Creek, was a finalist last year..
Even so, Aiken County has had three state teachers of the year since the 1960s - Angela Burkhalter, Sharon Rankin and Elizabeth Godfrey.
Before she could take the stage with the other finalists, Dr. Simpson had to survive Aiken County's Teacher of the Year contest, an honor she received last year.
Not bad for a woman who almost wasn't a teacher.
Dr. Simpson says she was fanatic as a child about books, writing and reading. She spent rainy days playing librarian, a profession her aunt had chosen.
That's what she wanted to be.
On Saturdays, when the weather was fair, she would take a bus to the nearest library, where she would pass most of the afternoon.
But in college, she changed her mind.
The reason for her change of mind turned back to her younger brother and his struggles as a boy trying to learn from books - something that came so easily to her.
Principal Christine Sanders says she is glad Dr. Simpson's path led her to the classroom. Even though the pupils she teaches are considered gifted, "she makes certain her influence reaches the average student and the below-average student because she is genuinely concerned about every child."
She has taught mostly technology and gifted and talented pupils for five years at Chukker Creek Elementary.
She has been an educator since August 1969, and before last year had never been a Teacher of the Year.
"One of the most rewarding things for anybody is to be recognized for doing your job well," Dr. Simpson said.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.