Dixon Elementary teacher Lisa Godwin observed her co-workers smiling and pointing at her.

They were facing the entrance of the room, while she was facing away, and found out before she did that she’d been named Onslow County Schools’ ‘Teacher of the Year’ for the school year 2016-2017.

“My heart was just beating a mile a minute,” Godwin said of the Wednesday morning announcement. “I just felt so grateful in that minute. To think they chose me to be our voice is a privilege.”

Dixon Elementary principal Glenn Reed wasn’t surprised at all that Godwin had been nominated for the award.

“She’s a fabulous teacher. She’s genuinely happy,” he said, describing the kindergarten teacher as caring and empathetic.

Onslow County Schools’ Teacher of the Year is nominated by a committee of five teachers and administrators. The committee nominates five teachers each year, who are voted on in a secret ballot by the district’s staff. The award has been a part of the school district for as long as Reed can remember.

Godwin wasn’t always a teacher. As she was preparing to go into higher education as a young adult, she remembers being torn between nursing and teaching. Nursing, she said, was in her family. And when her father became ill, she made the decision to attend a two-year university for nursing.

“After my children were born, I just knew,” she said, of transitioning into a teaching career. She attended night classes and worked during the day. “It truly was a labor of love for the whole family.”

She began her teaching career in the Lee County school district, where she was encouraged to go back to school for her master’s degree in school administration. Afterward, she worked as an assistant principal in Lee County for two years.

According to an Onslow County Schools’ Facebook post, Godwin previously was assistant principal at Meadow View Elementary in 2012 and remained there for two years.

“My place, my joy was in the classroom,” Godwin said. “I had to get my joy back.”

With that, she returned to the classroom at Dixon Elementary in 2013.

The last thing she expected, she said, was to receive the Teacher of the Year award.

“To come into a new school and be recognized by my peers… that was very humbling,” Godwin said. “It made me feel like my decision to go back into the classroom was validated.”

Having been a teacher since 1997, Godwin said she’s learned a lot not only professionally but on a personal level, too.

“I see things in a wider scope,” she said simply, explaining how she sees that things going on outside the classroom really do impact the kids’ time in the classroom. “Teaching makes me a better person.”

With any job, there are rewards and challenges — and Godwin has experienced them both.

“Having the privilege of being the entry point for a child’s academic journey,” she said, is rewarding. “To know I’m creating a solid foundation is one of the greatest rewards.”

Former students who are now in high school will still call her up and invite her to their ball games, she said. That’s when she knows she’s done her job.

On the other hand, acclimating herself to adjust her teaching style to different personalities and learning styles has been challenging. Students enter the elementary level at different levels of learning, she said.

Though she’s only been at Dixon Elementary for three years, Godwin has made an impact on the school’s staff, students and even community members.

“I learned more patience,” Reed said, of working with Godwin. “I learned what a fabulous person she is inside and out.”

As an administrator, Reed said he valued getting to see an administrator return to the classroom solely for the love of teaching kids.

“(Godwin) is a kindergarten teacher through and through,” Reed said. “She loves the babies.”