The seeds to become a teacher were sown in kindergarten for Fairfield County Teacher of the Year candidate Denise Clark-Wilson.
At age five when she saw her first kindergarten teachers and how articulate they were and how well dressed she knew that was the career for her.
She grew up in Eutawville in Orangeburg County, and said that background allows her to relate to a similar demographic in Fairfield County.
Clark-Wilson took a nontraditional route into elementary education.
She studied studio art at Claflin College and did not become a certified teacher until she was 29-years-old.
At that time, she earned a master’s degree from South Carolina State University.
She has since completed her Ed.S. in education from Walden University.
For a while she considered a career in law, but eventually followed the advice given to her by South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams that she pursue what made her happiest. For Clark-Wilson that means teaching.
She has used her artistic background to be creative in the classroom and engage her students.
“I like my lessons to include real world experiences based on lessons I have learned,” she said. “I share my fifth grade and high school stories to motivate them. Of course, teachers make mistakes in life as well, but I want them to be resilient and pick themselves up to follow a new path if necessary.”
This year marks a new path in education for Clark-Wilson.
In the past she taught fifth grade math primarily but this year she will be changing over to English/language arts and social studies.
She said a big challenge will be getting used to the new standards.
This year her class at Geiger Elementary also changes from single gender to a class with boys and girls in it.
She has observed other kinds of changes since her days as an elementary school student when she said teachers were regarded with more respect and authority and had more parental support. In the 1980s things were still on the heels of the civil rights movement back then and people of that era seemed to emphasize education more to their children in her opinion.
Yet even though there have been sociological changes since her elementary school days, Clark-Wilson embraces the new learning environment and her chance to shape children’s character in addition to molding their minds.
“Teaching is my testimony,” she said. “I grew up in poverty to a single parent and in an abusive home. I want to make my class a safe haven where children can be themselves and be who they want to be. School was the one outlet she had like that as a child.”
Clark-Wilson said that it is hard when some children come from unfortunate situations and she cannot help them as much as she would like and that she cannot help but become emotionally attached to her students.
She is active in the Ridgeway community, attending student church events and baseball games.
In addition she has started a nonprofit group for fifth and sixth graders at Geiger Elementary called Legasc which stands for leading and educating girls across schools and communities.
A single parent, Clark-Wilson uses examples from her class when raising her child and vice versa.
She also uses art to allow more creative thinking and for students to express themselves, something that excites her about the upcoming year as that goal is more readily transferred to ELA and social studies than to mathematics.
Art is featured prominently in her room because Clark-Wilson paints her own bulletin boards.
No matter what the medium or mode of interaction, though, she works to inspire her students to achieve all that they can, reminding them that nothing is impossible to a willing heart.