- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) - A west Georgia teacher has been honored with the prestigious Milken Educator Award, part of a program which has been called the “Oscars of Teaching.”

Eric Crouch is the only Georgian among the 35 educators in the U.S. receiving the award this year, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported (https://bit.ly/2gWCZyK). The award includes $25,000.

Crouch teaches at Double Churches Elementary School in Muscogee County. Jane Foley, senior vice president at the California-based Milken Family Foundation, made the surprise announcement during a recent assembly in the school’s gym, the Columbus newspaper reported.

“I couldn’t do this without these people right here,” Crouch told the crowd gathered in the gym, as he gestured toward the students and staff. “These people right here are why I’m here.”

Then he thanked Double Churches Principal Paula Shaw-Powell for hiring him six years ago.

“She was the one who gave me the opportunity,” he said.

Crouch, 30, initially had trouble finding a teaching job. He is a 2004 graduate of Hardaway High School. He had “no clue” about a career goal, he said. He started in general studies at Columbus State University and then became a business major, but he wasn’t enthused and struggled academically while he pursued photography work, which he still does on the side.

He recalled pivotal advice from his grandfather, Paul Edwards, who told him, “Sell something worth selling.” And he decided that meant he should pursue an idea he already had: become a teacher and help children get a good education.

“That’s the most valuable thing you can give a person,” he said.

Crouch earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbus State and a master’s degree from Troy University, both in early childhood education.

Crouch credits his wife, Dara, a labor and delivery nurse at St. Francis Hospital, for motivating him to not give up after initially not being able to land a teaching job.

“She saw something in me that I didn’t in myself,” he said.

The Milken Educator Awards is the oldest teacher recognition program of its kind in the nation. Now in its 30th year, the program has awarded more than 2,700 educators, totaling about $68 million.

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