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Two Anderson University Graduates Named Finalists for South Carolina Teacher of the Year

SC Teacher of the Year Finalists
Two graduates of the Anderson University College of Education are finalists for the 2024 South Carolina Teacher of the Year: Blake Bishop (left photo, center) from Ware Shoals High School in Greenwood County School District 51 and Braden Wilson (right photo, at left) at Palmetto Middle School in Anderson District 1.

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That makes two years in a row of Anderson graduates becoming finalists. 

Last year, Laura Merk, a 2015 Elementary Education graduate and teacher at Springfield Middle School in Fort Mill, South Carolina, became a finalist.

“Anderson University’s College of Education enjoys a long-standing and well-earned reputation for providing outstanding training to teachers, and it is always gratifying when our graduates excel in the classroom and are recognized for their teaching excellence,” said Anderson University Provost Dr. Ryan Neal. 

“Our College of Education is immensely proud of these exceptional educators and congratulate them on being recognized for their excellence in teaching as finalists for South Carolina Teacher of the Year. We applaud their success and celebrate in knowing their work is positively impacting students in profound ways,” said Anderson University College of Education Dean Dr. Mark Butler.

Blake Bishop

“I was very surprised,” said Bishop, a social studies teacher who received his secondary social studies education degree from Anderson University in 2019. “We had gotten an email that our superintendent was being honored for 40 years of service. I knew that (South Carolina Superintendent of Education) Ellen Weaver was the one who was going to be delivering the award, so I was a little suspicious, but I wasn’t certain. I was still uncertain after she said my name.”

“As a fourth generation educator, Blake decided as a freshman in high school to become a teacher, because he believes that teaching is the best way to ‘have the most positive impact on the greatest number of people’,” Superintendent Weaver said. 

Of his Anderson education, Bishop said, “One of the most impactful things has been the dedication and just everything about my professors. I’m still incredibly grateful for them and for the way that they poured into their students that helped to make sure that we were prepared and taken care of… We are in the top group of schools, I feel like, that are able to make sure that they’re really sending out really, really prepared students.” 

Bishop also has fond memories of attending and taking part in productions of the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University, including Christmas First Night. “I really enjoy the school’s dedication to the arts,” he said. “Being able to go see high-quality performances and being encouraged to participate in the arts is invaluable for Anderson’s students and community.”

His advice to others considering a teaching career is to come in with a good attitude.

“When I was first starting in education, I got told by other people to not let the kids see me smile until Christmas. Between Anderson and my student teaching, I realized that I was just not going to be something that worked because I want to come to work and have fun, and I want the kids to have as much fun as they can while I’m teaching. Come in with that attitude. The kids… you need to meet them where they are, it’s going to make your life and their life so much better,” he said. “My days are made so wonderful by being able to interact with my students.”

In addition to teaching Social Studies, Bishop also leads STOP THE BLEED® and First Aid/CPR classes for his school district.

Braden Wilson

“It was not expected,” said Braden Wilson of the honor given her when South Carolina Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver came into her class to announce she was a finalist. “I’m just really enjoying the moment as I’m in it… I’m thankful to be a finalist just because I know how great everybody else is and I’m happy to be a part of that group.”

Superintendent Weaver praised Wilson for her passion as a teacher, commenting, “She is paying that legacy forward to her own students, engaging them to become informed, productive citizens who share her love of history. We are so excited to celebrate Braden’s enthusiastic impact with every student who steps foot in her classroom.”

Wilson has enjoyed history for most of her life, thanks in part to her dad whom she calls a history buff. Though her mom was a preschool teacher, she didn’t see herself following that career path. 

Then Wilson’s sixth grade teacher inspired her. 

“She told stories—that’s how she taught. She told story after story after story and I loved it,” Wilson said. “We were doing a portfolio for her end of the year project and I remember she came over and flipped through it and said ‘you know so much. You’d be a great teacher. It just stuck with me, and I got to shadow her in eighth grade.” 

Early in her teaching career, Wilson recalls a student who had attendance issues and was on a behavior plan, but for him, something clicked about Wilson’s class.

“He came up to me and said ‘you’re the only class I’ve ever really liked to come to.’ And I was like ‘all right, I love it here.’ I’ll never forget that,” she said. 

While others questioned Wilson’s choice to become a teacher, she responds, “I’ve never gone to work and dreaded it. I’ve always enjoyed my job. It’s always been something different every day.

At Anderson University, Wilson was a Teaching Fellow, an enriched academic experience that prepares graduates to become outstanding teachers. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Social Studies Education. She earned her first master’s degree at another institution but returned to Anderson for her master’s degree in Administration and Supervision.

Wilson feels her experiences at Anderson University outshined her studies elsewhere. Throughout her bachelor’s and master’s work, she said her professors were there for her. Wilson also sees how student teachers who come to Palmetto Middle from Anderson University’s College of Education are different from those coming in from other institutions’ programs. 

“You can tell the difference between them, because the AU students are more prepared and they are more confident in the classroom,” she said.

As finalists, Bishop and Wilson received $10,000 and will advance to the next stage of the competition which involves an interview with a team of expert judges. The winner will be announced at the South Carolina Teacher of the Year Celebration April 25 in Columbia.

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