By ANNA STEVENS BRIGHT
Twelve years ago when I was serving as the English Department chair at Colleton County High School, I met this very young teacher who had just been hired and assigned to our school. She was full of energy and ready to plunge right into her new career. If she had questions, she did not mind asking them so that she would fully perform her duties.
Lydia McCollum Culler graduated with the first class of Colleton County High School in 2003. Upon graduation, she attended at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. There she earned a bachelor of arts degree in English and a master of teaching degree in secondary education.
After earning her degrees, Culler returned home to Walterboro and began her teaching career — she is now in her 12th year. Therefore, Culler is being recognized in this feature article for Women’s History Month
Lydia is has excellent rapport with her students. They love and care for her immensely and vice versa. She has held a dual role for the last year, serving as an ELA instructor, as well as the project-based learning instructional coach for the Cougar New Tech staff at Colleton County High School. She has also served as the ELA Department chair and the prom committee sponsor for the last nine years, as well as the graduation committee chair for seven years.
Lydia was in also charge of the Teacher Cadet program, designed to encourage academically talented, high-achieving, high school students with exemplary interpersonal and leadership skills to consider teaching as a career. A secondary goal is to develop future community leaders who will become civic advocates for public education.
Lydia was Colleton County High School’s Teacher of the Year for the 2013-2014 school year.
In an online interview, I posed several questions for Lydia to answer that reflect her career as an educator.
Which one of your teachers influenced you the most?
“My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Curry, fostered my love of education. I looked forward to her class every day. When she retired at the end of the year, I cried for days because she wasn’t going to be at school with me the next year,” Lydia stated.
What is your most memorable memory as a teacher?
“In 2013, I faced a medical challenge, which took a great personal toll on me. I had been out for several days, and when I returned, I was greeted with the most heartwarming cards and messages from my students. That time will forever be cemented in my mind. Teenagers are loving, compassionate, and loyal. The love they gave me is truly what helped me face each day. Their smiles and hugs each morning helped me charge on through that hardship, and I knew that I was right where God needed me to be, both personally and professionally.”
Lydia’s advice to new teachers
“Keep on keeping on! This is probably one of the most challenging and frustrating things you have ever done. If you are not feeling anxious, overwhelmed and like a failure at the end of some days, you’re not doing it right! Once you get through this year, you’ll have your feet underneath you. The first year is a huge learning curve. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Growing young teachers is just as important as growing our students. We’re all in this together.”
Tips/advice for education students in college
“People are going to ask you why you’ve chosen this profession for the rest of your life. Figure out your ‘why.’ What is calling you to this? Hold on to that. It is a challenging job, far more challenging that one can put into words, but nothing will give you greater joy either. No matter your calling — early childhood, elementary, middle, or high — your ‘kids’ will melt your heart and leave you with great faith in humanity. And, believe it or not, you will even love the ‘bad’ ones!)
One last tip: “learn to find the humor in everything! Laughter is what gets you through the day.”
(Lydia Culler is married to Baxter Culler Jr. of Orangeburg. and will celebrate their 10th anniversary on April 10. They are parents of two lovely daughters, Lillian, 5 and Reese, 2. She is the daughter of Bryan and Celeste McCollum of Walterboro.)