Local teachers honored for World Teachers’ Day

Debbie Demott: Teaching with a cheerful heart

For 33 years, students who have graduated from the halls of Aucilla Christian Academy (ACA) have passed through their school's music room and learned to hold an appreciation for music at the feet of instructor Debbie Demott.
In 1986, Demott was asked to be a teacher's aide for the kindergarten class at ACA – a class that one of Demott's children had been enrolled in.
“Halfway through that year, they asked me if I would teach music,” said Demott, adding that she had hesitatingly agreed, expecting it to only be a short-term arrangement, but 33 years later, Demott has taught countless students and classes at Jefferson County's Christian school.
Teaching music to preschool, elementary and middle school grades and then music appreciation to high school students, Demott stays busy. But she also manages to find the time to arrange the annual May Day celebration at ACA, the fifth grade Christmas Musical as well as the fourth grade Spring Musical.
A love for music and Jesus runs deep in Demott's veins – a love that was inspired by her personal history of traveling around the country with her musically-gifted family, performing for churches.
“I was from a musical family. From the time when I was little, we would travel and sing and play piano,” said Demott, who was also involved in choir as a student.
Despite her musical background and love for Christ, Demott was surprised when she was asked to teach music, mainly because, aside from classes and seminars, Demott's musical education was scattered and self-taught. Now, 33 years after being asked to teach, Demott's legacy of musical love and passion for Christ has inspired countless ACA students in their own personal walks.
Even though she has been rooted into Jefferson County for several decades, Demott is a native of the state of New York, where her father built skyscrapers.
Her family would travel south each autumn for their grandmother's Thanksgiving gathering and the family developed an appreciation for the warmer weather in the Southern United States.
When she was in her early 20s, Demott said her family made the move to the south, with her entire family – even married siblings – moving out of New York and to the south.
After moving to Florida, Demott married the love of her life, Donnie Demott; the two would eventually raise four children – all of whom attended ACA and were involved in the school's clubs and athletic programs.
“Every day, I look forward to coming here. I love the family atmosphere. I love that you can talk freely about Jesus,” says Demott. “These little kids, you can see it on their faces, they just love God. When you put God, children and music together and you have the three best things and it will make you cry sometimes when you see the love they have on their little faces.”
According to Demott, the most satisfying aspect of her job as a music teacher, aside from sharing the love of Christ, is watching the pride in her students when they've accomplished new goals and grown in new talents.
Although teaching music, planning musicals and spring celebrations keeps her busy, her greatest role model is that of Linda Demott (her husband's aunt) a women who, Demott says, seemed to have endless energy for her church, for children and for music.
“My whole life, I've thought 'gosh, if I could be like her,'” says Demott.
Demott attends Elizabeth Baptist Church and says that she was inspired greatly by how involved fellow-churchgoer Linda Demott was in music, the church, children and “everything.”
“I was always in awe of how she rolled everything in her life together.”
Her personal and professional walk is also inspired by the Biblical verse of Proverbs 17:22 –“A cheerful heart is good medicine.”
The verse, Demott says, reminds her that having a daily, positive outlook on life can transform her mood and attitude.
Debbie Demott is married to Donnie Demott, and the couple are blessed with four children and five grandchildren.
“But I'll tell you the truth,” concludes Demott. “Every kid I've taught, every time there is a graduation, it's like watching one of my own. When I see them mature, I'm just so proud of them.”

Terri Clark: Putting students on the road to everywhere

For 16 years out of her 21-year career, Jefferson Somerset teacher Terri Clark has provided a well-balanced education to the children of Jefferson County.
Since she was 11 years old, Clark has been a resident of Jefferson County; in 1981, her family moved from Madison County's Greenville to Jefferson County in order to transition into a new job for her father.
It was her parents, Clark says, that taught her the unconditional love that is required of a good teacher and eventually inspired her to share her gift of love with the children in the Jefferson County School District.
“They always gave me unconditional love and supported me in everything in my life,” said Clark of her parents, “They taught me the true value in life is being kind and loving others.”
After graduating from the Madison County High School, Clark went on to gain her AA Degree from North Florida Junior College. Eventually she would also attend Florida State University, graduating with a Bachelor's in Criminology and Florida A&M University with her elementary education certification.
In 1999, Clark began her journey as a teacher when she was employed by the Taylor County School District as a teacher in Perry, where she taught kindergarten, first and second grade until 2003.
It was in 2003 that she received her first position as a teacher in Jefferson County.
Starting with Jefferson Elementary, Clark taught first, second, third and fourth grades from 2003 until 2017.
When the Somerset Charter took over the Jefferson County School District in 2017, Clark was one of the teachers who transferred from the school district into the newly settled charter school of Jefferson Somerset.
Since 2017, Clark has taught an all-subjects class of first graders at the Jefferson Somerset campus, where she shares her love, passion for learning and insights with her young students.
“I chose to teach because I love children,” says Clark when asked what inspired her to pursue a life of building education for the younger generations. “I believe teaching is the most important job in the world.”
Teaching, Clark says, is a life that is filled with love – and Clark shares that love freely with her young pupils. But it is the moments when she watches her first grade class brighten with excitement over the prospects of learning something new that she truly loves her job itself. “It is very rewarding,” concludes Clark.
Looking back into her own years as a local student, Clark gains encouragement and inspiration from a teacher in her own past, Jan Brown.
Brown, Clark says, was a teacher whose class Clark attended when she was a middle school student, but also filled a role as Clark's basketball and softball coach.
“She expected your best and always gave [you] her best. You knew that she loved you,” said Clark. “I was blessed to have her in my life even when she was no longer my teacher. She was the perfect example of a great teacher and a great person.”
In addition to following in the footsteps of a teacher who helped form her life when she was young, Clark also takes inspiration from her personal motto: “Education is the road to everywhere.”
Out of the classroom, Clark is a loving wife to David Clark and mother to Kinsey Clark (17), Marilee Heaps (17) and Tyson Clark (13).