Most educators agree that teaching is more than just a career choice; it’s a calling.
This couldn’t be more true for Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year, Louise Smith, who is now among five educators who will be presented with the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence in May of 2024. The Horace Mann Award is one of public education’s top national honors.
“I just want to do my best and represent my state well,” Smith shared. ‘This opportunity truly humbles me.”
A Pascagoula native and University of Southern Mississippi alumnus, the Gautier Middle School band director has taught in Gautier for 22 years. Under Smith’s leadership, Gautier recently placed third in the state band competition.
“I’ve been with these kids for seven years, from 6th to 12th grade band, and to watch them flourish is an amazing opportunity,” Smith continued. “Watching students come together as a team and rely on one another to perform a difficult piece…to see the fruits of their work, it’s incredible.”
As Smith continues to inspire students day in and day out, she has seen multiple go on to be band directors just like her. Of those who studied under Smith, former students currently lead bands at West Harrison High School, Grenada High School, and Mobile High School (Ala.).
For nearly 80 years, Horace Mann along with the National Education Association have celebrated outstanding educators from around the country with this recognition. Each honoree is featured in a mini-documentary video that premieres at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in Washington, D.C.. The documentary is about all five of the awardees’ impact inside and outside the classroom, including their communities. There have been film crews at the Pascgoula-Gautier School district lately, filming Smith and her students.
“This is such a neat opportunity to shed light on this small area of the world that I love so much,” Smith said. “I tell my students, ‘I know they’re filming me, but I get to be me because of you.’ I really want this documentary to be about our community and our kids.”
Smith will officially be recognized this spring for her dedication and excellence as an educator. However, she is already recognized in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District as one of the best.
“You know, this is not a big town, so every time I walk in anywhere, people have been so supportive and congratulatory. It’s very humbling.”
Smith was nominated for the Horace Mann Award by the Mississippi Association of Educators, which has since allowed her opportunities to speak at her alma mater as well as Mississippi State University to encourage those who plan to go into the education sector.
“Education is important. Teaching is important, and we need good teachers. There are so many wonderful teachers in Mississippi. it just happens to be me who gets to do this right now, and I’m so thankful to represent Mississippi.”