At the Center for Innovative Learning at Pinecrest school Friday, teacher Lisa Raiford talked with her middle school kids with special needs about World War II, dictatorships and how Hitler manipulated citizens into believing other citizens needed to be imprisoned and even killed in terribly large numbers.

The students were drawn into the discussion – how Japan and Italy also fought America and its allies during the war.

“I love what I do,” said Raiford, who served as the 2012-13 Aiken County School District’s Teacher of the Year.

One of five finalists for the 2013-14 S.C. Teacher of the Year, she was recognized at the State Department of Education banquet in Columbia Wednesday. Darleen Sutton, a Pickens County teacher, was announced as the state winner.

The event was wonderful, Raiford said. The finalists and nearly 80 other district teachers were welcomed so graciously and with appreciation for their work as educators, she said.

Earlier in the school year, Raiford attended a forum for all the district representatives. They readily discussed strategies and stories about their profession, which always evolves.

“I want our district teachers to enjoy what they do,” she said, “and if they don’t, they won’t do their best and become stagnant. Teachers have to share and learn with the teachers around them.”

Raiford enjoys that aspect of her career as much as she loves the classroom. In mid-April, more than 20 Aiken County teachers participated in sessions to become mentors for first-year educators. Their instructors were Jason Fulmer, a former Aiken County teacher who became the State Teacher of the Year 10 years ago, and Margo Gore, also a former Aiken district teacher of the year.

Fulmer works for the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. Raiford plans to collaborate with him on some training opportunities across the state. Her ultimate goal is to augment her classroom experience by working with teachers who are struggling.

“I want to impact those teachers in a positive way,” said Raiford. “If I can turn around a struggling teacher, that goes back to the students.”

In her classroom, Raiford spends each day with children who have severe behavior issues. It takes a lot of hard work and has rewards, too.

“My enthusiasm has only grown over time,” she said.