When a teacher feels strongly about a topic and is excited, that passion is contagious.

Lori Hartin caught the passion for education as a senior at Broken Bow High School in southeastern Oklahoma. The enthusiasm lead Hartin to major in social studies education and enter the classroom as a teacher at Savanna Public Schools in the fall of 2005.

“I had three amazing teachers who supported and cared a lot about me,” Hartin recalls. “I was very lucky to have three teachers like that. I knew I wanted to go to college and I wanted to do something that would make a difference. I think I am.”

Taking a cue from her own teachers at Broken Bow, including 1996 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Stephen Smallwood, Hartin has created an exciting environment for learning, first at Savanna, followed by Crowder schools and now as an English teacher at Madill High School. She is entering her eighth year at Madill this August.

Her goal is to inspire all students who enter her classroom and connect the lessons to real life. She thrives on seeing her students not only learn and succeed, but also rise above expectations in the sophomore English and speech classes.

“It is when you see that light bulb,” says Hartin. “You can tell that they think they know and then they get it. It is so much fun to watch that every year. I want to see my kids succeed and reach success beyond high school. I am glad I get to be part of that for a student.”

Hartin’s attention to students and dedication to Madill High School was highlighted this spring when she was named Madill Public Schools Teacher of the Year by fellow teachers and staff members. She was encouraged by her peers and the district’s administration to apply for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.

“It went back to wanting to make a difference,” Hartin says on applying for the top education award in the state. “A teacher said to me ‘Think about what you could do if you were Teacher of the Year.’ It would be a sacrifice, but also an honor. And it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

On July 9, Hartin was announced as a Teacher of the Year finalist at EngageOK, the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s summer conference attended by hundreds in the profession. Hartin was selected along with 11 other educators from across the state. The dozen were chosen based on their applications for the title, which were reviewed by a committee of fellow Oklahoma educators.

“These teachers demonstrate incredible talent, creativity and dedication. They represent the best of the best, and that is not an easy achievement when you consider how many amazing teachers our state has in all of its schools,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.

Hartin described the announcement at EngageOK as “surreal and amazing.” She attended the conference with Madill Superintendent Jon Tuck, Madill High School Principal Keith Milligan, along with her mother and sister, both educators.

The state Department of Education named its first Teacher of the Year in 1955. The title goes to exceptionally skillful and dedicated classroom teachers. Those named the coveted title become an ambassador of the state and work closely with the office of the state Superintendent, giving up their classroom duties for a school year. The teacher travels across the state sharing their knowledge and recourses with fellow educators, and encouraging education as a profession. The teacher also participates in the National Teacher of the Year program.

The 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year will be revealed Aug. 25 in a ceremony at the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. Of the 60 educators who have been named the top teacher for Oklahoma, there has never been a Madill teacher nor a teacher representing a school district in Carter, Love, Murray or Marshall counties.

“I am excited to be a part of this,” Hartin says. “Everyone has been very supportive and that is what I love about it. People understand how important this is to education.

“I think back to the amazing examples I had and I know I am here because of those teachers I had in my life.”

Hartin says it would be difficult to leave Madill for a school year. She would have to set aside lessons for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and step back from the high school’s competitive speech team, which she help start three years ago with teacher Joanna Tuck.

If selected, Hartin has a message to share for teachers. She believes all teachers can make a difference in students lives. To make that difference, it starts with passion for the lesson being taught. Also, teachers need not be afraid to set high expectations for their students.

“They will rise above it,” Hartin says. “I’ve seen so many amazing kids that go above and beyond what is required.”

For those considering the teaching field, Hartin says being a teacher is a job that extends past school hours and classroom time.

“I think as teachers we really never know the exact impact that we make on our students,” Hartin says. “We get tired and we struggle, but in the end it is all worth it. As a teacher, you are the one standing in the gap for your students.

“Every teacher can make a difference. I believe that.”