TIFTON - A former business manager whose desire to change "what part of the world I could" led him to study education was named Tift County's Teacher of the Year Thursday.

Ed Connell, a social studies teacher, was in class at Eighth Street Middle School when Tift County School Superintendent Harold Abbott, Assistant Superintendent Scott Chesnutwood, Principal Jack Gibbs, other administrators and the press came to tell him about the honor.

"I'm without words for once in my entire life," Connell said. "I'm going to cry in a minute."

When Gibbs made the announcement a few minutes later over the school's intercom, teachers and students from other classes rushed to congratulate Connell, crowding around for a photo.

Abbott said a song written by Connell to help his seventh-grade students remember the names of all the nations in the world is typical of Connell's creativity.

"He really works hard to find unique ways for students to learn," said Abbott. "That's what sets him apart."

Gibbs said the entire school is proud of Connell, who came to Tifton from Moultrie two years ago.

"We knew he was going to be a great one, and he is," said Gibbs.

Connell received a business degree from Valdosta State University in 1995 and came back within three years to work on a degree in education. In his application for Teacher of the Year, he wrote that he started out in education but changed his major for "greater opportunities of promotion, money and travel."

After receiving the business degree, he became an assistant manager and then a manager.

"Despite having achieved everything I had strived for, I was unhappy," Connell wrote. "I saw 8 and 12-year-olds shoplifting, walking the street, using profanity and wasting precious, short lives ... Something was wrong with the world in which I lived."

Connell is currently working on a master's degree. He was named Eighth Street's Teacher of the Year last year, and his school group, Team Aquila, was named Middle School Team of the Year for the Second Congressional District.

Teachers of the Year are named by their peers for each school, and the county winner is chosen by a committee of educators and community representatives. Connell will go on to compete for the state Teacher of the Year title.

Teachers of the Year at other Tift County schools include Kelly Merritt, Annie Belle Clark; Tammy Askew, Omega; Brandy Hobbs, Matt Wilson; Terry James, G.O. Bailey; Mari Smith, Northside; Patricia Dinkins, Tift County High School; Jana Cromer, Len Lastinger; Rhonda White, J.T. Reddick; Claire Anderson, Charles Spencer; and Toi Walker, Northeast.

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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