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McDonald takes rewarding detour
Melissa McDonald
Effingham College & Career Academy teacher Melissa McDonald greets as class of seniors Friday, two days after she was named Effingham County’s Teacher of the Year. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — Life’s road blocks prevented Effingham College & Career Academy instructor Melissa McDonald from getting to her dream destination. They steered onto a very rewarding path, however.

“I didn’t want to be a teacher,” McDonald said Friday. “That was not ever in my five-year, 10-year or 15-year plan. I wanted to go to law school.” 

The courtroom’s loss was the classroom’s gain. The Effingham County Board of Education named McDonald its 2021-22 Teacher of the Year during a Nov. 3 banquet at New Ebenezer Retreat Center.

McDonald has been a teacher since 2003. She got married at a young age and quickly had a baby.

“A couple years later, I was divorced and I still didn’t have a degree,” McDonald said. “When I went back (to college), I still pursued the idea of law school but it never really panned out.”

McDonald turned in a new direction after getting remarried to a military man and adding to her family. 

“I went into teaching because it fit the degree plan that I had,” McDonald said. “I was a political science/history major and, if we’re being honest, it fit the lifestyle. I was able to move with my husband and take care of my kids.”

The detour paid rich dividends for McDonald and students in multiple states.

“Never in a million years did I think that I would find my passion in teaching,” she said. “I absolutely believe it was divine intervention.”

McDonald spent her first three years in teaching in North Carolina. She then spent five years in Maryland, three years in Germany and two years in Chatham County before settling in Effingham County.

“Every state was different so, every time we moved, I had to figure out how to fit my teaching style into that place,” McDonald said. “I really think that makes you more well rounded. You have to figure out how to chameleon yourself to fit the needs of your students, the needs of the community and the needs of the state.”

McDonald accepted the district teaching award with humility.

“It’s kind of embarrassing” she said. “I’m really not that great. I’m just an amalgamation of the people who have poured into me.

“I’m a little bit of everybody who has done a good job.”

McDonald, who teaches classes in economics and government, loves Effingham College & Career Academy. She has been with it since it opened.

“We are like a family,” she said.

 McDonald was chosen from a field that included Danielle Viste (Blandford Elementary School), Valerie Mobley (Ebenezer Elementary School), Emily Schleiger (Guyton Elementary School), Brooke Burns (Marlow Elementary School), Amanda Hallman (Rincon Elementary School), Nicole Drayer (Sand Hill Elementary School), Billie Ann Gordon (South Effingham Elementary School), Shannon Burnsed (Springfield Elementary School), Wendy Crosby (Ebenezer Middle School), Shelly Graham (Effingham County Middle School), Laura Cook (South Effingham Middle School), Greta Coleman (Effingham County High School), Danielle Brandenburgh (South Effingham High School), Jessica Jarman (Crossroads Academy) and Amanda Johnson (enCompass Academy).