Teachers often can trace their professions to childhood, and Emilee Meek is no exception.

Selected as the Aiken County School District's first-year teacher of the year on Wednesday, Meek is a special education instructor at Aiken Middle School.

As a child, “I loved school,” she said. “I would get an ironing board at home and sit my sister and neighbor down and play school. I was always the teacher.”

Some 15 or 16 years later, Meek loves her new profession even more – striving to transfer her own enthusiasm to her students. They have moderate academic challenges, and she relishes watching them when they succeed in a new skill.

A ceremony for all first-year school winners was held at Jackson Middle School on Wednesday. Meek was stunned about the award and surprised again when a large family contingent emerged from a hallway.

When she arrived at Midland Valley High School as a freshman, she met a student with Down syndrome. The young woman inspired Meek, which led her to the Special Olympics as a “buddy” for special athletes.

Meek later enrolled at USC Aiken after hearing about its School of Education. Even before she began the classes in her major, she accepted a part-time job with a company that sent her to home settings to assist children with autism.

On campus, Meek welcomed the instruction provided by professors Dr. Windy Schweder, Dr. Kay Hanson and Dr. Tim Lintner. As a senior a year ago, Meek served as a student teacher with special education teacher Courtney Long.

Meek “is an inspirational and motivated teacher,” Long said of her friend. “She expects all students to learn … She takes the initiative to plan and collaborate with teachers and parents. She always wears a smile and is so positive.”

Even before she graduated from USCA in May 2013, Meek was hired at Aiken Middle School as a long-term substitute for the remainder of the year. The principal, John Bradley, knew over the summer that with her commitment and love for the students, Meek would be the top candidate to fill a vacancy.

“Emilee was a great find on my part,” Bradley said.

She has goals for her kids – meeting them where they're at and where they need to go. After they complete high school, Meek wants them to have some kind of job and to become members of society.

During the year, she has worked with Allison Newbegin, a special-education teacher at LBC Middle School.

Meek has proved “just how dynamic a first-year teacher can be,” Newbegin said. “She is charismatic and is always looking for ways to engage her students to help them reach their highest potential.”

Following her marriage in 2013, Meek promised herself she wouldn't bring her work home to her husband Drew. That hasn't exactly happened.

“I'm always working on stuff, and Drew has helped me with laminating and other things,” Meek said. “He's a really good guy and so supportive.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.