When Jasper Middle School fifth-grade teacher Bobby McCulley is awarded the Tennessee Education Association's Distinguished Educator Award in a ceremony this afternoon, it'll be at the same Marion County school he attended as a student.
"I was very excited about it because I know it's not something that a lot of people win," McCulley said late last week.
"The only people I've known who've won it before have taught for a lot of years and they're very good teachers, so I was very flattered to receive it," said McCulley, who didn't become a teacher until he was 30.
McCulley, 38, seemed stumped as to specific reasons he received the award.
"My main objective is to get kids ready for what's going to face them in the future," he said. "Trying to be the kind of teacher I'd want to have if I was a student."
The "late bloomer" said he was influenced by good male teachers he had as a student.
"I did social work before I became a teacher," he said.
Jasper Middle School Principal Ramona McEntyre says the easygoing McCulley's love of education makes him shine.
"The main thing about Bobby is he's very caring about his students, and passionate about education," she said. "He has high expectations for the students and wants everybody to succeed."
McCulley said the decision to go into education was tough.
"It's hard to commit to going back to school when you're in your mid-20s, but it has really paid off big for me," he said. "I do love my job."
McCulley is looking forward to next fall when he switches classrooms to where he had homeroom as a fifth-grader.
"It'll be like homecoming," he said, laughing.
Beyond that, the coming challenge for all teachers will be new education standards that come with Race to the Top guidelines, McCulley said.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out," he said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1 and follow him at twitter.com/ BenBenton on Twitter.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...