The morning after being named Muscogee County’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, retired Master Sgt. Debra Everett is on the football field, taking Spencer High’s JROTC cadets through drills, marching and jumping jacks.
“She motivates us daily,” said sophomore Ammie Evans, aka “Bulldog.”
Some students have earned nicknames from Everett; Ammie was christened Bulldog from her tough attitude during the JROTC’s Leadership Challenge.
Everett’s students said she inspires them to become better leaders, often making the youngest students lead PT drills or speak in front of the class.
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“I think its a great honor,” said senior Nickulas Moses. “They couldn’t pick a better person to represent the county.” But Everett is wary of the spotlight and said she is still trying to process her Thursday night win.
“I’m shy. Most people don’t know that,” she said, pointing to her uniform.
Everett said she was honored and humbled to be selected as Teacher of the Year, but she felt out of her comfort zone.
“I get the feeling it’s going to be quite a journey,” she said. “I think they expect much, therefore, they will receive as much of me as I can possibly give them.”
Growing up in Florida, Everett said she was a tomboy and played a variety of sports in school. Her father died when she was young; her mother picked oranges and cleaned houses to support the family. Her mother, who only went to school through the third-grade, thought it was important for Everett to get an education.
Everett was the youngest of seven children, but the first to graduate from high school. Her mother wanted her to go onto college.
“When I went and joined the Army, she almost died,” she said. “She made me promise I would go back to school.”
Everett spent 21 years in the Army before getting back to the classroom. She said she had a sergeant major who kept insisting she should work with children in a JROTC program, even though she didn’t know anything about it.
Everett earned a bachelor’s of applied science degree from Troy University and her associate’s degree in applied science from Chattahoochee Valley Community College.
She started teaching at Spencer High School in 2002, though she had a little trouble finding the school on her first day. She called a taxi to help her out.
“Ex-Army and I could not find a building in the woods,” Everett said.
Her first time leading a class was also a little intimidating.
“I went into class and there were all these kids. It was wall-to-wall kids. I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” she said. “At that point I told my husband I should have gone to Iraq. But they keep you young.”
Everett is the first JROTC instructor in Muscogee County to be named Teacher of the Year. She received $2,500, a billboard recognizing her and will represent Muscogee County for the state honor.
Though she does not teach a core academic class, Everett said what the students learn in JROTC supports all the core classes, helps the students learn boundaries and learn more about themselves.
“To be better citizens they have to start with themselves and to learn who they are,” she said.
Some students complain about the discipline, but she said those are often the ones who stick around.
“The ones who you think are not receiving it well, those are the ones that stay and do well and remain in JROTC,” she said.
Everett also goes to students’ homes to talk to parents and to get to know her students better.
“It makes me get a deeper view of them. I can understand their attitude sometimes,” she said. “When I first did it, it was the talk of the school. She’s not afraid to go into the neighborhood.
“I just want them to know there’s more to life and education than just your neighborhood. They can achieve better than me, but they must have the knowledge. If I can do this, they can certainly do better than me.”
Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469