Meet WO Lance Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year

Published 8:18 am Wednesday, January 25, 2023

This year, Notasulga native Michelle Lee was awarded the Teacher of the year for Lanett’s WO Lance Elementary School. 

Like most kids, Lee dreamed of what she would be when she grew up. A lover of reading and studying, she expected to be either a lawyer or a teacher one day.

However, guided by her love for children and the many teachers in her family and church, Lee pursued education. She graduated from Troy University with her BS and MS degrees in elementary education.

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However, after teaching for 18 years and working with children at Refuge International Church in Columbus, Lee has learned to leave work at work and leave home at home. 

“Sometimes we can overload ourselves in both our personal lives and in our jobs, our employment, trying to intertwine them,” Lee said.

Stress begins to build for Lee as state testing season rolls around. She does her best to ensure her students are prepared, even with the setbacks of the pandemic. Still, Lee’s passion has continued to burn thanks to the support of her husband and children, as well as her faith. 

“The Word of God keeps me motivated to come here every day,” Lee said.

Over the years, Lee has taught kindergarten, second grade and now fifth grade. Though she enjoys the self-sufficiency of older students, she enjoys seeing growth in every student no matter their grade.

“I can see the growth in each grade that I teach … I do enjoy the older grades because they’re more self-sufficient than the younger kids,” Lee said.

For Lee, the easiest part of her job is getting to work, teaching the children and building relationships with her faculty. As a people person, she can develop relationships with each of her students in a meaningful way.

“All the students are different so you have to meet them where they are and take them to a place that you know they can go,” Lee said.

Lee takes a deeper approach to teaching than just repeating an equation from a whiteboard. She takes an interest in where each student is in their education, academically and otherwise.

“It’s not just one thing that we teach them academically. It’s learning after so many years to educate the entire child, the whole child. Not just academically, but you have to try to facilitate and teach them everything about themselves, not leaving anything out. Because sometimes that’s lost along the way,” Lee said.

By doing this, Lee said she can better understand the deeper level of a student who is acting out behaviorally.

“We need to be able to sit down and understand what they’re going through and understand why they might not get what I’m teaching,” Lee said.

She said the focus of education is always the children. 

“We go through storms but as long as you keep your eyes focused on where you’re going, and where these children need to be, things are going to be fine. The children are our number one focus,” Lee said.

Ultimately, though, the most important thing Lee hopes to accomplish is to nurture and encourage lifelong learning in students. She hopes that the students who visit her classroom over the years will feel loved.

“My teaching philosophy is to nurture and encourage the lifelong learners to be successful in whatever career or whatever path they go in,” Lee said. “Also, I want to love and treat them the way that I want somebody to love and treat me.”