Chanel Vaughan Leslie made her way on hands and knees under a loft in her Huntsville, Alabama, classroom to reach an autistic child.
"He wouldn’t come out; no one could reason with him," she said. "No one could do anything. I remember crawling under the loft and talking to him. Fifteen minutes later he and I crawled out, and he wrapped his arms around my neck, told me he loved me and went to sit down."
Moments like these are career-defining and underscore the passion great teachers have for connecting with their students. For Leslie ’97, 15 minutes under a loft with a child showed her she was where she was meant to be.
And though teachers don’t do it for the accolades, moments like those are often recognized by other teachers, administrators and grateful parents. So it was for Leslie, a third-grade math teacher at an art magnet public school specializing in art integration, when she was selected as Alabama PTA Council Elementary Teacher of the Year in April.
With the honor, Leslie joins more than a half-dozen other Longwood alumni recognized by their states or school districts as stars among their peers.
Among those alumni honored:
- Drama teacher Diana Driver ’96, Nelson County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
- John Yeates Middle School social studies teacher Tracy Eubank Halvorson ’04, Suffolk City School’s City-Wide Middle School Teacher of the Year.
- Second-grade instructor Renee Johnson ’06, Powhatan County’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
- Governor’s School of Southside Virginia instructor Amy Newcomb McClure ’00, who was one of eight honored statewide with the Virginia Lottery Super Teacher Award.
- Sixth-grade teacher Theresa Scruggs ’85, Fluvanna County Public School Division’s Teacher of Year.
- Fairfax County Public School’s social studies teacher Stephanie Shimp ’06, who was named one of two state winners in the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year competition.
- Appomattox County High School history teacher Peggy Voorhees ’10, who was honored as the Horizon Behavior Health Teacher of the Year.
Leslie, who hails from nearby Cumberland County, was recognized in a schoolwide celebration. "The accolades were great," she said, "but what touched me more than anything were the words and sentiments that parents and children shared about why they thought I was worthy of such an honor. To hear them was truly moving."
Fellow awardee Diana Driver was just as shocked when she heard she was chosen as Nelson County’s first teacher of the year, though her Nelson County High School drama students have garnered their own impressive resume, winning the prestigious Virginia High School League One-Act Play Festival four times, including with this year’s production of The Little Mermaid.
Like many educators, it was a teacher of her own who inspired Driver’s career path.
"In high school, my drama teacher was unlike any teacher I’d had previously," she said. "She seemed to take a special interest in every student, and she pointed me in the direction of Longwood, which changed my life. I can remember walking into Jarman and seeing the stage with the ghost light for the first time. It became one of my favorite places on campus, and my time with my professors changed my life forever."
Leslie also credits Longwood for launching her teaching career—though in a nontraditional way. At the urging of her father, she gave college a second try, often bringing her 7-year-old daughter to classes and her work-study job. "I always felt Longwood went beyond the book," she said. "It’s one thing to teach theory, but I felt like someone was always there for me, helping me along the way."
Like generations of Longwood alumni before her, Driver felt a similar call to the classroom—or in her case, the stage—through simple experiences like watching a student emerge from her shell and achieving things she never thought possible.
"It’s life-changing for them," Driver said. "But what they don’t know is that those moments change my life, too."
Alumni listed were compiled from news reports. If we missed a Longwood graduate who was named teacher of the year, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.