During her 18 years as a teacher of upper-grade students at Escambia Academy, Bobbi Sasser has earned the respect of and left a lasting impression on hundreds of teenagers. This year, Alabama Independent School Association officials presented Sasser with tangible proof that her effort has expanded beyond the EA campus.
Sasser, who teaches English and Literature to eighth-graders and honors English and Literature to students in grades 9-12, was selected recently as the AISA’s Class 2A Secondary Teacher of the Year. She was presented with a plaque and a small monetary stipend during the association’s May 1 Student Government Association convention in Montgomery.
She said the award caught her completely by surprise.
“The day Mr. (EA Headmaster) Wade Heigle told me I had won the award, I was totally dumbfounded,” the veteran educator said. “I literally had no words, and very rarely am I at a loss for words. It’s not something I ever thought I would get. I knew they were nominating me; we nominate teachers every year. We’ve had teachers who I feel like were worthier than I, so I guess that’s why I was incredibly surprised.”
Sasser is also state sponsor for the school’s SGA, as well as senior sponsor, college advisor, pep club sponsor and intermittent cheerleading sponsor. But her dedication to her students goes beyond the classroom.
“Each summer several other teachers and I take a group of kids on a trip,” she explained. “This year, right after graduation, we’re going to New York City. Other teachers help, but I spearhead the trip. We go to Washington, D.C. one year, Boston one year, then back to New York. I try to tie in history everywhere we go, but I’m an English and Lit teacher, so if there’s literature anywhere in the vicinity, I try to tie that in as well.”
She also follows the progress of her students through college and into their adult lives.
“I went to a former student’s wedding just last weekend,” said Sasser, 44, who pointed out that she has now completed a career circle. “I was laughing the other day that I have officially come full circle. I’m now teaching the children of students I taught.”
While her work with teens earned her the AISA award and the respect of her students and peers, Sasser said she had misgivings about teaching that age group when she first joined the EA faculty.
“I started out at Monroe Academy (where she taught two years before coming to the local school) teaching seventh and eighth grade only,” she recalled. “When I took the job here, I was hired for middle school only. Between the time I was hired and the time I started in the fall, a high school English teacher retired, and I was asked to take the class. I first said, ‘no, no, I’m not cut out for that.’ I finally said I’d give it a try, and there’s been no looking back. I love the age and the content better than I ever thought I would. The kids here are so full of vitality and enthusiasm, they’re so smart.”
She added that her family, husband Clint and their five children, Jordan, Anna Catherine, Emma Caroline, Charlie Reid and Grant, have been extremely supportive, even when she grades research papers during trips to the beach, the mountains and other locations.
For most of the students who have learned under her tutelage, the relationship has become one of mutual admiration, even if their assignments include the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare or the tales of Chaucer.
“She’s been my teacher the whole time I’ve been in high school,” said Bailey Lancaster. “I’m going to Auburn in the fall, and she helped me get in and helped me get a lot of scholarships. I do not like Shakespeare at all, but I like it when I’m around her. I think she’s pretty great.”
Abigail Smith, the school’s valedictorian, agrees.
“She’s great, she’s amazing; that pretty much sums everything up,” Smith said. “I have an intense love of literature, and she makes anything, even Shakespeare, good, the way she dives into it. I think her teaching has reflected on my ACT scores.”
Sasser said she would treasure the teacher of the year honor, but would continue to concentrate on helping to shape and sharpen the minds of her students.
“It’s more than just a job; I take it to heart,” she said. “It means something to me that they’re prepared for whatever it is they’re planning to do. I know I’m just a small piece of the pie, but it means everything to me to watch them grow and become young adults. If you’re genuinely into teaching, you don’t do it for the accolades and awards.”