Margaret Hawkins, a sixth-grade science and enrichment teacher at Winfree Bryant Middle School, was recently named one of three state finalists in science for the 2012 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Science and math teachers are identified in each state and the four U.S. jurisdictions. Elementary and secondary finalists are chosen in alternate years.
“Whoever wins gets a trip to Washington, D.C., meet the president and get $10,000,” said Hawkins. “I’ve never been to Washington, so I’m hoping.”
Hawkins joins Derri Cash, a science teacher at Lakeside Park Elementary School in Hendersonville, and Karla Fultz, a science teacher at A.L. Lotts Elementary School in Knoxville as elementary science teacher finalists.
Elementary math teacher finalists include Amber Hodge with Annoor Academy in Knoxville, Amy Mitchell with Manley Elementary School in Morristown and Kimberly Jones with Spring City Elementary School in Spring City.
“Just to be honored as a state finalist is great, and I don’t see it going any further,” Hawkins said. “But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will.”
Hawkins, 59, became a science teacher in Lebanon schools about 11 years ago as a second career. She worked in banking for several years before becoming a stay-at-home mother and working with a children’s theater. At 48, she graduated college and started teaching.
“I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, wanting to work with children,” she said. “I feel it’s my calling. I just wish I would have found it earlier in life.”
Hawkins said she expects to find out in May whether she is a national finalist.
“I think it’s just a matter of luck and sharing the right things at the right time,” Hawkins said. “I’m feeling like all of my stars are lining up this year. I can’t even realize what an honor it is to be a state finalist. This kind of recognition makes all the long hours and late nights worthwhile.”
If she is selected, Hawkins would represent Tennessee as the national elementary science teacher finalist during a trip to Washington to meet President Barack Obama, and she would receive $10,000.
In 2011, Hawkins served as steering committee chair for the National Science Teacher’s Association in organizing the first national Science, Technology, Engineering and Math conference. She also serves as a Race to the Top coordinator, working with teaching students and fellow teachers at Tennessee Tech.
“I’ve been nominated by parents before, but I never thought I was at a level to enter, because it’s an extensive process,” Hawkins said.
Two Tennessee teachers were recognized at the White House earlier this year through the 2011 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The secondary science award went to Gail Schulte with Smyrna Middle School and Phyllis Hillis with Oak Ridge High School.