Florida Teacher of the Year Inspires Education Honor Students

November 11, 2015

Diane McKee didn’t discover her calling to teaching as a profession until she had already worked in the corporate world and was married with growing children. But then one day while clearing out some older belongings, she found a memento from her high school graduation. It was a note with a single pearl, a parting gift to her from a caring, joy-filled teacher, encouraging the young woman on her path in life. Rediscovering that symbol of faith and encouragement caused Ms. McKee to stop and reflect, and then inspired her to redirect efforts. She soon told her family she would be to going to college, part time, at a state university in her then home state of Georgia to become a teacher.

Ms. McKee is now an experienced language arts teacher at Williams Middle Magnet School in Tampa who was named Florida Teacher of the Year for 2016. She shared her story earlier this month (pictured) with 33 future teachers studying education at Central and North Florida locations of Saint Leo University. The group is the latest to be inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education. Some of them, like Ms. McKee, returned to college after time away, while others enrolled at Saint Leo right after high school.

To all, Ms. McKee said: “Thank you for picking the very best profession in the world, in my opinion.” Ms. McKee urged the new honor society members to try to connect with each student on an emotional level, noting that such care can make a difference in a student’s life. There will be times in teaching, she said, that you won’t know that you have reached a student and made a difference. Other times, it will be clear. “Cherish those,” she said.

Recently in her career, Ms. McKee found a way to motivate her students that seems to have made a lasting impression. She had the notion of challenging her students to “raise the bar” by attempting to do more challenging work, and to choose to read a novel in school that was considered a bit difficult. A family member actually made for her classroom a cylindrical bar, wrapped in pliable red covering, and suspended from the ceiling. The bar could be raised, too. As students met a goal, they would jump and touch the bar, Ms. McKee told the gathering. And she cherishes the photos she took of them reaching higher.