WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- No one was surprised when Jennifer Eskridge became a teacher. After all, her mother, grandmother, several aunts and an uncle were all educators.
But Eskridge got a surprise of her own Tuesday, when Lexington Two Superintendent Dr. William B. James Jr., Principal David Basile and other administrators stopped in to her Pine Ridge Middle School classroom to announce her selection as District Teacher of the Year. The news was met with a round of cheers and applause from her students.
“I am in shock!” Eskridge said.
But her selection was not surprising to her principal.
“Jennifer Eskridge cares about her students, period,” Basile said. “As a teacher of students with special needs, Ms. Eskridge treats each student with the utmost love, devotion, and care.
“I can think of no one more deserving to represent Lexington Two as its District Teacher of the Year,” Basile added. “We are so proud of her.”
Eskridge has been in education for 35 years, 14 in Lexington Two, and today is a teacher in a self-contained classroom setting, where she specializes in ELA and math. She made the decision to go into special education after working in high school with moderate intellectually disabled students as part of a teacher cadet program.
“My daily interaction with these wonderful students was all the affirmation I needed that I was making the right career choice,” said Eskridge, who has a bachelor’s degree in special education from Columbia College and a master’s in education from Southern Wesleyan University.
Eskridge said one of her goals is to spark a love of learning in her middle school students.
“I always try to make learning fun and interesting,” Eskridge said. “I always try to choose instructional materials that give my students a sense of pride, inclusion and accomplishment. For example, although my students are reading significantly below grade level, I provide them with age appropriate literature through the use of audio books. My students read Holes, Because of Winn Dixie and other books, just like all the other students in the school.”
Outside the classroom, Eskridge is involved in a number of organizations, among them the Council for Exceptional Children, Palmetto Teachers Association and School Improvement Council. She also volunteers with the Pine Ridge Middle School Beautification Committee, as well as Carolina Gardens, a local senior citizens memory care facility, where she calls Bingo games for residents, takes them shopping and helps them tend to their therapy pets.
One of her most rewarding accomplishments, though, is seeing her former students.
“I often meet former students who are gainfully employed and have homes and families, and they tell me how much they learned with me and how grateful they are that they were in my class,” Eskridge said. “They are always proud to let me know they’re living on their own and they love to tell me about their lives since leaving my class. I am humbled that they think enough of me to want to share their successes.”
Eskridge will go on to represent Lexington Two in the S.C. Teacher of the Year competition. The statewide winner will be named in May.
In the meantime, Eskridge -- who has been selected as a school-level Teacher of the Year twice in two different districts -- is enjoying her latest recognition.
“When I think about this award, I think of the word honor,” Eskridge said. “It is an honor to be recognized as District Teacher of the Year, It is an honor to be able to work with my students and fellow teachers every day, and it is an honor to be able to tell people, ‘I am a teacher.’ ”