‘I love to help them read’
When Sherri Smith graduated with a bachelors degree in elementary education from what is now Coastal Carolina University, she did not try to become a teacher.
In fact, Smith — a Waccamaw Elementary School educator who is one of the five finalists for Georgetown County Teacher of the Year — waited 13 years before she pursued that career.
After college, Smith went back to doing what she had been doing — working in her family’s restaurant business.
Smith, whose maiden name is Lee, is part of the Lee family known for their ownership of restaurants in Georgetown and Horry counties.
“This is my second career,” Smith said of teaching. “I was raised in the restaurant business.”
Through the years the Lee family built and sold Drunken Jack’s and Gulf Stream restaurants and still owns Lee’s Inlet Kitchen.
Smith said she and her husband, Lee Smith, operated Wayside Restaurant until they started a family.
“That’s when we decided I needed a day job. I was working all hours at the restaurant,” Lee said.
She applied for a job and was hired as a substitute teacher at Waccamaw Elementary. The following year she was hired as a second-grade teacher.
That was 18 years ago.
“While the jobs are different, I learned if I can run a restaurant I can run a classroom. Both take lots of organizational skills. Things I learned in the business world has spilled over into the classroom.”
After spending six years teaching second-graders, Smith was transferred to first grade, where she spent 11 years.
This year she is a kindergarten teacher.
Her entire teaching career has been at Waccamaw Elementary.
“We a very close faculty and staff. We are more like one big family. We look out for and take care of each other,” Smith said.
She said of the grades she has taught, she thinks first grade was her favorite.
“I love to help them read and watch them build on those skills,” Smith said. “The same with math skills. Sometimes some students enter first grade not reading very well or not being able to count to 100. Knowing you had something to do with their progression is very rewarding.”
Smith said she also loves seeing the improvement in the social skills of her students.
“We teach them how to get along with others, to be patient and to take turns,” Smith said. “It’s amazing the change and growth we see in just one year.”
This was the first time Smith was named Waccamaw Elementary’s Teacher of the Year. She said getting that honor and being nominated for the district crown in the same year was surprising.
She said she hopes to keep teaching for many more years.
“I love to work,” she said.
By Scott Harper
This is the final part in a series of articles on the finalists for Georgetown County Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced Thursday evening.
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