SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) –A Jefferson High School teacher is the winner of the 2023 Dr. John W Harris teacher of the year award. George Hawkins is in his 11th year as a teacher in the Sioux Falls school district.

George Hawkins teaches American Experience, AP Government, and Dual Credit Government at the Project Based Learning Academy at Jefferson High School. Project-based learning often involves hands-on projects and collaboration.

“The best part of the job, teaching, is getting to work with the kids and getting to see them grow and having their light bulb moments, getting to see them do things at the end of the years that they didn’t think they could do at the beginning of the year, so it is just awesome getting to work with the kids,” said Hawkins.

Today the students are building monuments to civil rights movements that, when put together, will become a park. The class is called American Experience. Hawkins began teaching in 2012. His route to teaching is filled with a few twists and turns.

“I student taught, hated the experience, and realized I was never going to teach a day in my life. So went into law,” said Hawkins.

That’s right, Mr. Hawkins was George Hawkins Esquire.

“I hung out a shingle on my own, I had a lot of abuse and neglect cases. It was kind of tough, and I was grinding it out, and it was kind of soul-sapping, and I could not imagine doing that for five, 10 years down the road,” said Hawkins.

So he saw an opening at New Technology High School and, this time, found teaching to be rewarding. Assistant Principal Dolly Anderson has worked with Hawkins since he started.

“One of the things that I really appreciate about George is his ability to relate to students and to take them under his wing and where ever they are at and help the growth and something they don’t even realize what they need, but George sees that,” said Anderson.

Hawkins says he is proud and humbled by the honor.

“There are not enough words knowing that I’m in a district of thousands of teachers and they are all amazing,” said Hawkins. In my building, there are amazing teachers in my PBL Academy there are amazing teachers and so just being nominated is beyond the moon, so I’m floored to be standing here right now to have it.”