Teresa Bennett says she has “the greatest job in the world.”
Bennett, a long-time language arts teacher at Dalton High School, was recognized as the Tom Jones Educator of the Year Friday night at Harmon Field during halftime of the Dalton football game against Ringgold. The Dalton Education Foundation awards the title annually to one special person who is selected by a panel from outside the school district.
Bennett didn’t realize at first that the announcer was calling her down to receive the award. After someone came to get her, Bennett went to the field as the band played in her honor in front of the packed stands.
Bennett received a crystal apple and a check for $3,000 from the foundation. Dalton High School will receive $1,000 as a reward.
Retired high school principal Debbie Freeman said Bennett has built strong relationships with her students and is a stellar teacher.
“She’s very deserving of it,” Freeman said of the award. “She’s worked so hard with so many of our students over the years.”
As part of the application process, teachers had to explain their teaching philosophy to the panel. “Because I love what I do, I think that I convey that enthusiasm to my students,” Bennett wrote. “I try to convey to my students that ... I care about them as people.”
In between accepting hugs and congratulations after she accepted the award, Bennett explained that she never wanted to be anything but a teacher. When she was a little girl, she coaxed her younger brother into playing school with her. When she was grown, teaching was an easy choice. Today, after 34 years in education, including 20 at Dalton High School, her passion hasn’t deteriorated.
Ask her about her interest in English and she’ll talk to you about it, but she talks even more about her students and how much she enjoys opportunities to make a difference in their lives.
“I love it as much now as I did my first day,” she said.
From among a crowd of cheering students who took a few seconds to collectively scream their lungs out in support of Bennett, senior Natalie Zuspan said she was happy to have had Bennett teach her in an advanced English class last year.
“She was an awesome teacher,” Zuspan said. “She was really inspirational.”
Bennett sponsors the Cat Ambassadors, a school organization. She also works with the region and state literacy contestants and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and has coordinated a summer trip to New England for juniors at Dalton High School every year since 1995.
Bennett was one of the first two teachers from Dalton Public Schools to receive National Board Teacher Certification, according to a news release from the school. She is on the school’s design team to come up with innovative ways to approach teaching and learning, and she is the department chair for the English Language Arts Department.
“Mrs. Bennett was an amazing teacher. Her class was just fun for me,” said senior Freddy Pineda. “I hope she keeps teaching.”
Cathy Rauschenberg and Trisha Bethel, daughters of Tom Jones, were on hand to present the annual award. The Tom Jones Educator of the Year award was established in 1987 in memory of the local businessman who served on the Dalton Board of Education for 26 years, ending in 1986. Jones co-founded what is now J+J Flooring Group.