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Keys high school teacher Lisa Burton jokes with students while she hands out assignments, stopping to visit with Jalyn Willis Monday morning.

Challenging students through creative discussions and respect are ways Keys High School teacher Lisa Burton connects with them.

The current Teacher of the Year teaches U.S. history, current issues and ACT preparation to juniors and seniors.

For 23 years, the East Central University graduate has enjoyed interacting with her students, helping them find their voices and motivating them to think.

“The subject matter I teach gives kids an opportunity to study the past and give me their perspectives, and I enjoy hearing their ideas and letting them tell me what is or is not important,” Burton said.

Conversations range from the recent election and politics, to social issues like texting. Her students even started a petition banning texting and drive.

“We had a great response from teachers and students,” Burton said. “Even if they don’t all stick completely to it, at least maybe it will slow them down and make them think about it, and hopefully save a life.”

Collecting donations of clothes and money to help people in need as a class project helps the students learn how to help others, Burton said.

“At some point all of us may need a helping hand, and you should always try to give back when you can,” she said.

According to Burton, for the election students studied each candidate and issue so they would have informed points of view. When they started investigating, they discovered how much signs, advertisements and commercials could sway their opinion, Burton said.

“I wanted them to realize all their opinions are important and the value of an educated opinion, and that I support what ever opinion they have,” she said. “Sometimes they might even vote for someone based on how they look.”

Burton has degrees in elementary education, physical education and history, and she taught at Drumright 11 years and at Gore for three before coming to Keys nine years ago. She said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher.

In third or fourth grade at Oak Grove, she had a teacher who had an impact on her.

“Bertha Gooch always found time for each one of us and made us feel like we were important and our ideas were important,” she said, “and she was strict.”

A yearbook entry Gooch wrote influenced Burton’s teaching philosophy: “In your golden chain of friendship always remember me as a link.”

After graduating, Burton visited her mentor to be sure she knew what a positive effect she’d had on her life.

Today, the circle continues as Burton said the best compliments she receives are students coming back to tell her how much she meant to them.

“The greatest reward is when you hear from students years later, and they tell you what a difference you’ve made in their lives, there’s no greater reward,” she said.

She hopes when students leave her class they realize how much she cares for and respects them, and that they know she values their opinions, she said.

“Students are our future,” said Burton. “It’s our job and our responsibility to help them be the best they can be. You have to reach to teach, I’ve always been told.”

Burton believes getting to know the students is one of the most important parts of teaching.

“Building a comfortable relationship is important, so they’re willing to share their ideas and opinions and feel comfortable asking questions,” she said.

Burton said she was obviously very flattered and humbled when she was named Teacher of the Year, and credits teamwork for her success. “I work with a lot of great teachers here, each of them deserving of this award,” she said.

“I appreciate them voting for me.”

Leisure time is spent at the lake with family and friends, boating and fishing, especially south Texas and Florida.

“Fishing is relaxing and time to reflect,” she said, “quiet time to yourself.”

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