Jeff Maxey, an alumnus of the Spalding University College of Education master’s program, was named the South Carolina Teacher of the Year on May 2. In a phone interview this week during Teacher Appreciation Week, Maxey said he credits the program at Spalding for setting him on a path to success in teaching.
“Not a day has gone by in teaching classes that I don’t think back to something I learned in my experience at Spalding,” said Maxey, a special education teacher at Starr Elementary School in Anderson, South Carolina.
He won the award during a gala event last week. He’ll receive $25,000 and the use of a new BMW for the next year, during which he’ll serve as an ambassador and the spokesman for more than 50,000 educators in the state. He’ll travel the state to speak, conduct mentoring and work with teacher cadets and teaching fellows. The South Carolina Department of Education touts its Teacher of the Year program as one of the strongest in the country.
“Jeff exhibits the qualities and characteristics that we want to see in every current and future South Carolina educator,” State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said.
Maxey didn’t begin his professional life as a teacher. The Louisville native and Seneca High School graduate got his bachelor’s degree in religious studies and communication from Western Kentucky University in 1992, then served as a minister at Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green.
Several years later, he made the career move into teaching, and he said the programs offered in the Spalding College of Education made it possible. Maxey was able to earn certification to teach special education during the day at Lassiter Middle School in the Jefferson County Public Schools system while taking his graduate-school courses in the evenings and on weekends.
Maxey spent about 18 months at Spalding, earning a Master of Arts in Teaching with a concentration on learning and behavior disorders.
“To be able to do it hand in hand – the learning (at Spalding) while being a practitioner during the day – really solidified and made the teaching in the classroom come to life and made me that much more a part of what of my professors were teaching me, because then I could go try it,” Maxey said. “Then I could come back and interact (with the professors) about what worked or about what things I could do to tweak it to become more successful.”
Maxey said he was grateful for the options that were available to him at Spalding as an adult learner looking to make a career change into teaching.
“Spalding was a huge part of my educational journey,” Maxey said. “Right now, with the teacher shortage that we’re experiencing, I hope there’s a lot of people out there who would consider it. If they’re looking at making a change in career, looking for something very meaningful in which they can impact the life of children, I would certainly recommend that they consider Spalding and they consider teaching.”
After spending three years at Lassiter Middle School, Maxey’s career took a unique turn. He moved to North Africa to work for eight years for a non-profit organization doing teacher training in small villages.
“Every day, I used in Africa what I learned at Spalding,” he said. “I used a lot of the same principles my professors at Spalding taught me in how to use a variety of teaching techniques that I was able to pass along to those teachers and help them be successful in their settings.”
Maxey returned to the United States in 2013 and began teaching in South Carolina. His Teacher of the Year award shows that he’s done an exemplary job.
Maxey is eager to start traveling to talk with students, teachers, administrators and legislators about education policy and classroom practices. As a special education teacher, he said one priority of his will be to discuss enhancing teaching techniques for students with autism.
And, as he travels as Teacher of the Year, he’ll be riding in style. As for that brand new BMW, Maxey said, “I’m looking forward to putting a lot of miles on it.”