Merk is a South Carolina Teacher of the Year Finalist
A love for kids and a desire to keep learning upbeat, engaging and fun best describes Laura Merk, a 2015 graduate of the Anderson University College of Education.
Each day, students at Springfield Middle School in Fort Mill, South Carolina, look forward to her classes, where learning might take on the form of a puzzle, a fun mystery or a cheer.
Merk’s inspiring approach to learning gained her recognition when she was named District Teacher of the Year for Fort Mill Schools. Then in early March, South Carolina Superintendent of Education Dr. Molly Spearman visited Merk’s classroom, surprising her and her students.
The classroom’s atmosphere quickly turned celebratory as Dr. Spearman presented Merk with a $10,000 check and announced her as one of five finalists for South Carolina Teacher of Year. Joining Dr. Spearman was Fort Mill Schools Superintendent Dr. Chuck Epps and Springfield Middle Principal Keith Griffin.
Approach to learning
“I’ve always loved school myself,” Merk said. “I think learning and growing are really important… to help each person become the best they can be.”
Motivating students takes a variety of forms for Merk.
“You do have to find something that’s going to get them excited, whether it’s going to be a game, a mystery or a riddle—something that’s going to pique their interest to get them engaged in the actual content,” she said.
Since a lot of students find math to be tough, she gives her students positive reinforcement as they try to solve problems.
“You want your students to build on the small successes so they can take that confidence and run with it. One thing I tell my students all the time is ‘I love wrong answers,’ because we learn from wrong answers. I’ve created a classroom where we’re not afraid to get things wrong, so there’s not a fear of failure. What we’re doing is growing and learning from these mistakes,” she said.
Merk, whose parents moved to Fort Mill when she was a fifth-grader, spent many of her growing up years in the district schools. She feels blessed to have taught in Fort Mill ever since she graduated from Anderson University and can look back on teachers who inspired her to pursue teaching.
Coming to Anderson
When considering colleges and narrowing down her options, Merk looks back on two college visits she made.
“I toured Anderson; it was my first college visit. I can’t explain it; it just felt right,” she recalled. “The next day I went to what I thought was my preferred school and there was something missing. I kept going back to this with that feeling—there’s just something about Anderson. Looking back, I realized that it was the Lord pulling me towards Anderson.”
Being in the Teaching Fellows program at Anderson University provided Merk with professional development opportunities and experiences that gave her the tools she needed for excellence as an educator.
“We had a lot of professional development; I think that helped me grow as a professional and prepared me. That’s what I remember most—the quality of excellence, the standard of excellence, how to love our students well and the professional development with Teaching Fellows,” said Merk, also grateful for opportunities to visit China and Northern Ireland as a Teaching Fellow.
“I really feel like Anderson set the bar for excellence,” she said. “I really think what is different about Anderson’s program is that I felt prepared to go in the classroom and love my students.”
While at Anderson, Merk also served the Office of Admission as an ambassador and was a resident assistant in Pratt Residence Hall.
“The College of Education at Anderson University celebrates Laura’s well-earned recognition as a South Carolina Teacher of the Year Finalist. We rejoice in her accomplishments, particularly because we know that means she is daily living out her calling to impact students through building knowledge, values, and community in her classroom,” said Dr. Mark Butler, dean of the Anderson University College of Education. “We could not be more proud of the award-winning teacher she has become since being a Teaching Fellow and student at Anderson just a few short years ago.”
The 2023 South Carolina Teacher of the Year will be announced in May by the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE). The South Carolina Teacher of the Year serves as an advocate for South Carolina’s public school educators and inspires others to enter the education profession.