West Hall High School’s top teacher is also a graduate of the school.
Matt Phillips, social studies teacher at West Hall, graduated from the school in 2003. He was recently named not only the school’s top teacher, but also Teacher of the Year for Hall County Schools.
“It was almost more of an honor to be the school teacher of the year than the county, because all the people I work with here voted for the school one,” he said. “A little affirmation from your colleagues is really nice.”
Phillips is the son of two Hall County educators. His mother Connie is a retired county teacher and his father Ernie works with him at West Hall High as the band director.
Principal Scott Justus called Phillips a “shining star” at the school.
“This family embraces everything that it means to be a Spartan,” Justus said. “All the trials and tribulations he’s faced, with a new child and his mother recently fighting and winning a battle with cancer, Matt continues to excel in the classroom. Never, ever does he ask me to do something. It’s always ‘What can I do?’”
Phillips and his wife Rebecca are parents to 1-year-old son Barrett.
Phillips graduated from the University of Georgia, where he did not originally plan to become a teacher.
“I was looking at other career opportunities that would have made me travel around a lot. This is much more stable, which is not necessarily a good reason to choose a career,” he said, laughing. “But it was enough to get me in the business and then once I started school, I figured out, yes, this is something I really want to do.”
Phillips said he believes every teacher learns something about instructing from teachers he or she had as a child, and he remembers that when teaching his students.
“I have so many people that have been inspirations for me in teaching, that I kind of steal ideas and style from,” he said. “Some of them teach here, some I had in college or back when I was in school. I’m really grateful to them all.”
Justus called Phillips “a blessing in the classroom.”
“The kids at West Hall High School benefit from him every day,” Justus said. “Therefore, I benefit from him every day.”
Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said he and Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, surprised Phillips in his classroom to tell him he was the district teacher of the year.
“You can tell so much about a teacher by looking at how the students respond,” Schofield said. “I’ve been around this business long enough to know those students love that man. As a dad, I’m grateful for that.”
The students in his International Baccalaureate history class were excited about his selection as teacher of the year. Phillips said it’s an honor not only for him but for his students as well.
“We all work together,” he said. “It’s not possible to be honored on a level like this if you haven’t had the opportunity to teach some really good students who’ve worked hard.”
Phillips said the selection was unexpected and a little out of his comfort zone.
“I’m not very good at receiving praise and that’s made me a little bit uncomfortable,” he said. “But I’m trying to just be humble, say ‘thank you’ and go with it.”
He will go on to compete with other system winners from across the state as 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year. While he is excited about the opportunity, Phillips said he really looks forward most to seeing his students succeed.
“When the student who has every reason not to be successful is successful, that’s the reason I do this,” he said.