GULFPORT -- We all know the drill. "Students, Mrs. Jones is sick today. Please be good for our substitute."
That's when the spitballs start flying.
So when deciding on a substitute of the year award, educators look for someone equal parts stern, take-charge, loving and devoted.
Kelly Educational Staffing honored Bel-Aire Elementary School substitute teacher Callie Weaver as its Substitute of the Year on Wednesday, largely for the love and devotion she has shown students over the years. Weaver has been a substitute teacher with the school since 1999.
Kelly District Manager Robyn Tennison helped present the award to Weaver in the school cafeteria where students had gathered. She said Kelly Staffing asked each school in the 11 school districts it serves to nominate one outstanding substitute teacher for the honor. Weaver's name kept coming up.
"Teachers matter, including your substitute teachers," Tennison said. "Over the course of a school career, the average student will spend one full academic year with substitute teachers. Bel-Aire was one of the first nominations we received stating that they knew who should win this award. The outpouring of letters and support we received were touching and heartfelt." Bel-Aire Principal Heather Blenden said Weaver is among the school's most reliable staff members and one of the hardest-working.
There's little she isn't involved with," she said.
"She comes in early and cooks. She decorates the building. She came in early today to help with our sixth-grade breakfast," Blenden said.
"She's always willing to give her time and resources. It makes it a wonderful place to come into every morning."
"Who here has had Mrs. Weaver as a teacher?" Blenden asked the students. All hands went up.
District superintendent Roy Gill has known Weaver for years. He said he attempted to get her to work at other schools in the district. She refused. Her heart has always been at Bel-Aire, he said.
"I want to thank everyone that has gathered here," Weaver said as she accepted the award. "I know some of the students think I'm the hardest teacher ever, but I love each and every one of you.
"I especially want to thank my family. I have the best family in the world. I brag on them all the time."
She said she takes great pride in teaching the Bel-Aire students, and gets particular joy from past students. They often tell her how much she has meant to them.
Weaver was married for 49 years until her husband's death. She raised five children, who were on hand for the award. She has three grandchildren.
Area businesses donated 19 gifts to go along with Wednesday's honor, including gift certificates and a two-night stay at South Beach Biloxi Resort in Biloxi.