Local educator a Teacher of the Year finalist

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 6:05 AM EDT
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COPENHAGEN, New York (WWNY) - She arrives before anyone else, and she stays later than most.

Lori Atkinson has been teaching for 32 years.

Last year, she was surprised when a colleague at Copenhagen Central School nominated her to be New York State Teacher of the Year.

She was even more surprised when she made it through all four extensive rounds to become a finalist.

It really made me think about all the things I’ve been doing since 1990 as an educator,” she said, “and thinking about all the ways you love teaching and all the things you’ve done and all the things that make you feel that teaching is your passion.

“Very rarely has anyone north of the I-90 corridor been recognized in this capacity,” Copenhagen principal Nadine O’Shaughnessy said. “The fact that Lori made it this far is a huge accomplishment.”

“I have never been more proud of her,” colleague John Cain said. “You would be hard pressed to find a better teacher or better person in any classroom, anywhere in the state or the country, and I’d put money on that. Super, super proud of what she’s done.”

A number of things set her apart from other teachers. For one, she’s taught 21 different courses in her career at Copenhagen.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve taught English 9, 10, 11, 12, technical writing, AP literature, public speaking, historical literature, herstory, drama class 1 and 2, video productions, communications 115, video journalism, AIS 9, 10, 11, 12, and SAT prep,” Atkinson said,

“She’s always pushing me to give my best ability and do my best in everything,” student Dylan Petrie said. “It makes it a lot more of an enjoyable experience.”

She’s also an outspoken advocate for evolving State Education having served on multiple councils, committees, and task forces. So, for her, this award was more than a pat on the back. It was an opportunity to have her voice heard.

“This award for me was a chance for me to represent the north country and all teachers up here because we have phenomenal teachers.” Atkinson said. We have small schools and we care about our kids and we’re often ignored by Albany education. I wanted people to understand that our kids matter, too.

For her, teaching goes beyond books and essays. It’s also about compassion.

“You are their mom, you are their confidant, you are their cheerleader,” she said. “You are their person who sometimes is the only one who smiles at them over the course of the day. It is the teacher’s job to create that community, so all kids have a safe space and I hope that’s part of my legacy, that kids felt loved and safe.”

“She’s definitely had an impact on my life,” student Alyssa Fitzpatrick said, “and I appreciate it very much.”

So, after an accomplishment like this, what’s next?

“I have many more kids that I feel I want to experience their joy when they do something that makes them proud of themselves,” Atkinson said. “I want to see some kids graduate, and I want to be a part of their learning. There’s some pretty great kids out there and they have so much to still teach me.”