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Effingham County Teacher of the Year: Bilinda Sikes
B. Sikes- Pic 1

Some people grow up not knowing what they want to do with their life or what they want to be when they grow up – others know from a young age the plan they have for themselves. And sometimes, things just happen by chance.

That’s what happened to Bilinda Sikes, the 2016 Effingham County Teacher of the Year.

“I always loved school,” Bilinda Sikes said. “I had really good teachers. I think the most influential teachers were in elementary school – that’s probably the story for a lot of students. There were a handful in middle and high school who were just especially supportive and didn’t just see a student, but they saw me.”

Those teachers helped pave the way for Sikes to become the teacher she is today, although the road to becoming a teacher was not straightforward from the beginning.

“As far as knowing when I wanted to become a teacher, I came to it a little unconventionally,” Sikes said. “I was an interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing students.”

Sikes said that her first job as an interpreter came in 1999 at Effingham County Middle School.

“I was hired as an interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing students when we were at the old campus,” Sikes said. “As I was interpreting, the more I was around education, the more classrooms I was in and the more students I interacted with, I started to really see myself as a classroom teacher.”

With this in mind, Sikes made the change – not without the help of her husband, Tony.

“My husband, who is also an educator as the assistant principal and Springfield Elementary School, was very supportive,” Sikes said. “He made it possible for me to go back to school and get my degree and pursue teaching. There was also the fact that I had started college years before and I was a mother and never finished my degree. I wanted to be able to tell my kids that you finish what you start – I couldn’t say that if I didn’t do it for myself.”

Sikes went on to finish her degree and become a teacher. These days, the title she gives herself is more than just what her degree says.

“I used to refer to myself as an English teacher - I saw myself as the teacher of a subject,” Sikes said. “I think in getting to meet students and getting to know them, I wanted to see them the way those influential teachers saw me. I wanted them to know that when they walked out of my classroom, somebody had paid attention to them. Instead of seeing myself as a subject teacher, I saw myself as this person who is trying to care for these kids and encourage them to make them feel like they were seen and they were heard and they are important enough for my not to just talk at them but to speak with them.”

Sikes continued and said that her goal is not just teach her students what they are required to learn but to also find out what makes them special.

“I think helping them discover the things that they’re good at and how that can be used,” Sikes said. “How they can use what they’re good at to make a difference, to get out into the world and do something that will make them feel like they’ve contributed to society and fill them with a sense of purpose.”

When she found she had been chosen as the 2016 Effingham County Teacher of the Year, Sikes said her emotions came pouring out.

“I cried – I will tell you that,” Sikes said. “There are Teachers of the Year from all of these different schools and they’re not Teacher of the Year at the schools for nothing.”

Sikes explained that those teachers are no different from her.

“They’re good people and great teachers,” Sikes said. “They see their kids too. I don’t put myself ahead of them. For someone to look at me and say ‘what you’re doing is impressive, what you’re doing matters’ – I’m just doing my job. I’m caring about the kids that are put in my class and I’m encouraged by it.”

Sikes said that her job is no different than most.

“There are always days in any job – especially teaching – when you wonder ‘Is what I’m doing really mattering? Is it making an impact? Is there somewhere I could be doing more good for more people?’,” Sikes said. “It’s very validating.”