Northwestern Middle School teacher Apryl Schackelford was chosen Thursday night to represent Duval County in a statewide competition.
Shackleford was named Teacher of the Year Thursday night at the 22nd Annual Eddy Awards. Schackelford is the lead reading teacher at Northwestern Middle School.
"What I value most, just getting to teach, building a relationship. Then getting them to do to be successful in life," said Shackelford.
Shackelford was a high school dropout herself who overcame her circumstances to earn bachelors and masters degrees and now works primarily with students who struggle in reading. While she uses her personal life experiences to inspire her students, Shackelford relies on data-driven instruction so that students know when they have reached benchmarks and when they need to review in order to reach a target.
She was one of five finalists for the award that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti surprised in their classrooms last month with the news they were up for the Eddy Award.
First up was Scott Cason, a teacher at Mandarin High School.
Cason teaches advanced placement world history and got the surprising news in front of his students.
But he wasn't the only one.
Vitti visited Ramona Boulevard Elementary School, where reading intervention specialist Cameron Foley was told she was also in the running for Duval County Teacher of the Year.
Vitti said these teachers rise above their vocation.
"I often say that teachers are the soldiers of democracy because I think democracy is tied to public education," Vitti said. "We just saw a glimpse today of what these soldiers do every day on behalf of our children."
The three other contenders are Blair Nolan, Teacher of the Year for First Coast High School, who teaches ninth grade English and language arts; Robyn White, Teacher of the Year at West Jacksonville Elementary School, who is a reading coach; and Apryl Shackelford, who was teaching class when Vitti walked in.
"Do you know why we're here?" Vitti asked her.
"I do now," Shackelford said.
"Why don't you tell the students why we're here," Vitti said.
"Students, we're in the top five!" Shackelford said.
She's a sixth-grade intensive reading coach at Northwestern Middle School.
Out of her own pocket, she pays for eReaders and other electronic devices she gives students as an incentive to read.
"Oh my gosh, my students are simply the best," Shackelford said. "Every last one of them. I tell them every day that they can do it, that failure is not an option. And they take that around with them."
All the teachers say this isn't a job to them, it's a calling.