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story.lead_photo.caption Clair Mays, an EAST (Education Accelerated by Service and Technology) and computer-science teacher at Arkadelphia High School, was named one of the 15 regional finalists for Arkansas Teacher of the Year. She was not selected as one of the top-four finalists, who were announced Aug. 1. - Photo by Sam Pierce

When Clair Mays found out she was one of 15 regional finalists for Arkansas Teacher of the Year, she said she was shocked and speechless.

“Sometimes at the end of the year, I look back and feel like I could have done this better or this different, but then to be honored like this, I give it all to God and praise him,” she said. “To be honored by your co-workers and also as a regional finalist is just so humbling.”

Mays is an Education Accelerated by Service and Technology and computer-science teacher at Arkadelphia High School, where she has taught for 21 years.

“I am very honored to represent our high school and also my career-education department,” Mays said. “I am really honored to represent Arkadelphia and our school district. I’m still a little speechless and thankful for all of that.”

She did not advance to the top-four finalists, who were named on Aug. 1 during a luncheon at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion to honor the 15 regional finalists. Teachers from Conway, Little Rock, Mountain Home and Springdale are now in the running for the 2020 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Mays is originally from Northwest Arkansas, having graduated from Van Buren High School in 1985. She earned a two-year degree from what is now the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and got a job at the college as a computer programmer.

About a year later, she and her family moved to Arkadelphia, after Mays’ husband, Rick, got a job at Trinity Temple Assembly of God as its senior pastor.

“Once we got to Arkadelphia, I went back and got my degree,” Mays said. “I started teaching some in my community and my church, and I was very comfortable with it.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in business education from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia in December 1997 and worked at Hope High School for one semester. She earned a Master of Business Administration degree from HSU in 2003 and is taking classes through an online program at HSU to earn an Education Specialist degree in curriculum. She said she is scheduled to graduate in May.

For the first 12 years at Arkadelphia, she taught marketing education and was named High School Teacher of the Year in 2007. When Mays was nominated for the honor this year, she said she was a little reluctant to be competing for the title again.

One of Mays’ students, Justin Miller, is entering his junior year at Arkadelphia and took Web technologies with Mays last year. In his recommendation letter, he nominated her for the Teacher of the Year award.

“I feel like she is a very hardworking teacher at the school. She is very down to earth and understanding 100 percent of the time,” he wrote.

“I think I can speak for all of her current and past students when I say Mrs. May’s attitude is always a happy or jolly one,” Miller wrote. “She heightens every student’s interest in taking one of her classes, and she makes teaching look so effortless, even though we all know it can be very rigorous at times.

“I wish I could thank her an infinite amount of times.”

Mays said one of the biggest challenges about teaching is how technology is constantly changing.

“It is always a challenge, and I enjoy it, for the most part, especially in EAST,” she said. “I know the kids sometimes learn the new technology faster than I do, so it keeps things challenging in the classroom, and every year, there is something new — some new update or some new tool.

“Then also, there is always something the kids have learned that you have to keep an eye on. … I enjoy it. I like the challenge of technology and learning things.”

Mays and her husband have been married for 33 years, and have two children, Caleb and Josh. Both graduated from Arkadelphia High School, and Caleb graduated from Henderson State, while Josh graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Rick has been a pastor at Trinity Assembly of God for 25 years.

“I always thought I would teach on a college level some day, and I really loved business, so I thought I would maybe work in corporate,” Mays said.

She said getting to work for UAFS has allowed her to work in a collegiate-level environment. At one point, after enrolling at HSU the first time, Mays said, she considered going back to working as a computer programmer, but she felt called to be a teacher.

“I loved the business; I really loved the programming and have love for the content,” May said, “but I started teaching in the community and my church, and doing so made me comfortable with [being a teacher].

“I could see the connection you can make with students. Henderson has a wonderful education program and used to be a teaching college. I’m used to being around other teachers. I had friends who were teachers — I just felt called to teach.”

She said that when she first went back to HSU, she took a couple of classes part time before enrolling full time, and she loved the “problem solving of computer programming and the challenge of it.”

“After I went back to school, my kids were born, and I remember spending a lot of time in the computer lab at school, so I weighed that option, too,” Mays said. “[Going into computer programming] was a consideration, and I’m glad it’s back in my life now as a teacher.

“Really what programming taught me — even about life — is that there is no problem that there isn’t a solution to, and I want to convey that to my students.”

David Gustaveson is the DECA adviser for Arkadelphia High School and has known Mays since 2012. He said Mays serves as DECA’s chairwoman and “demonstrates genuine leadership abilities as she serves as an asset to our organization.”

“Her attitude, work ethic and dedication make her an excellent candidate for the Teacher of the Year award,” Gustaveson wrote in his recommendation letter. “She has proven to be a very courteous and conscientious leader who pays special attention to the needs of others.”

Gustaveson wrote that in addition to serving as a mentor and directing activities, “[Mays] also leads students to participate in EAST competitions, provides students with encouragement through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or FCA, and coordinators our faculty’s benevolence activities.”

“Working with Mrs. Mays the past seven years has been a pleasure and an honor,” Gustaveson wrote. “Her contributions have increased the value of our high school to the community through her outstanding service.

“She provides our organization with an energetic voice of encouragement.”

Mays said she had two mentors in her life: Carolyn Hunter and Judy Honey, both retired.

“I was blessed to have those two mentors in my life,” Mays said. “They were career-education teachers, and they had a great impact on me and my being professional and caring about the kids.

“And now, I know that as a veteran teacher, it is important for me to encourage the younger teachers who are coming to the high school or wherever.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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