Oklahoma's reigning teacher of the year, John Hazell, speaks during Ada City Schools' back-to-school meeting Friday at the Cougar Activity Center.

Jon Hazell had a message Friday for Ada teachers: The most valuable people are those who don’t give up when the road gets rough.

“I get sick and tired of hearing people say, ‘Well, if we get more money, we can get the best and the brightest,’” he said. “Well, I’ve got news for you. The best and the brightest in any area of life are not the people who come in when things are really easy and leave when things get tough. The best and the brightest are people who stay and find solutions to the difficult problems.”

Oklahoma’s reigning Teacher of the Year delivered a pep talk to Ada’s educators during their back-to-school meeting Friday at the Cougar Activity Center. Teachers will return to their classrooms Tuesday for the start of a new school year.

Hazell, who teaches science at Durant High School, was named the state’s 2017 Teacher of the Year in August 2016. His duties as an education ambassador include encouraging people to enter the profession or remain in the field.

Hazell said he has 34 years of classroom experience under his belt, and he is familiar with the struggles that Oklahoma educators face — large classes, low salaries and government mandates. But he urged teachers in the audience to keep a positive attitude, despite their challenges.

“You teachers are guilty of telling your children that their life does not depend upon their circumstances, but the way they respond to those circumstances,” he said. “It depends upon the choices that they make.

“Well, guess what, teacher? It’s the same for you. Your life and your happiness and your passion will be based on the choices that you make, not on the circumstances that you have. Because we can choose to be happy.”

Hazell said in the last few months, people have accused him of being out of touch, attacking people who are moving to other states and begging teachers to stay in Oklahoma. But he said none of those accusations were true.

He said he was not vilifying teachers who accept jobs in other states, nor was he practically begging people to stay in Oklahoma. But he said he only wants teachers who are willing to remain in the trenches and find a solution to their problems.

“Only the best of the best can handle the responsibility and the privilege it is to be called ‘teacher,’” he said. “And only the very best of the best are able to hang in there when things get as difficult as they are right now and do a good job every day.”

Honoring teachers

Following Hazell’s remarks, the teachers of the year for each school site were recognized. Those teachers are:

• Gracie Nail, Ada Early Childhood Center.

• Catie Barr, Hayes Grade Center.

• Ria Huckeby, Washington Grade Center. Huckeby is also the districtwide teacher of the year.

• Vanna Jones, Willard Grade Center.

• Paula Ross, Ada Junior High School.

• Jamie Weston, Ada High.

Eric Swanson can be contacted by email at eswanson@theadanews.com.

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Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.