PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Substitute teachers don't always get much recognition, but one woman has left a powerful impression on hundreds of students in Pascagoula. The executives at Kelly Services agree. So on Tuesday, they announced Keren Kiernan as the National Substitute Teacher of the Year.
Kiernan never realized she has touched so many lives over the last five years.
"Ms Keren has a heart for the people who are hurting and she had a heart for the people who are happy. She's a tremendous person," said Terry Shows, a youth pastor.
"We can count on her to make sure that those children are taken care of and they're learning," said Lake Elementary Principal Susan Keenum.
The highest praise came from letters Pascagoula students wrote to Kelly Services.
"She was the only one who could get me to be a good basketball player," said third grader Justice Hasty.
"She also helps people to become their best," said third grader Kayden Guthrie.
"She's always saying positive things to me and she's always helping me out even though I'm not that good at anything," said third grader Xavier Woodson.
That explains why Kiernan won both the local and state substitute teacher of the year awards. She was among more than 20,000 nominees for the national honor.
"You are a true inspiration to all of us, so it is my honor from Kelly Educational Staffing to present you with the National Substitute of the Year award," said Robyn Tennyson, Kelly Services Branch Manager.
Kiernan received a $1,100 check, along with certificates and other prizes.
"I was so overwhelmed. I mean, there are a lot of great substitutes out there," said Kiernan. "When I walked in here and saw everybody here, I was like, I'm blessed. It's not about me. I'm nothing special. I'm just a person with a lot of gifts and I want to use my gifts to help the youth of this generation."
Kelly Services also gave Kiernan a $1,000 check to donate to any school. She chose Lake Elementary School, where she has spent most of her time teaching. For Kiernan, the recognition fulfilled a vision she had when her 11-year-old daughter Shae died in 2007.
"A month before she passed away she said, 'Mom, you could do what you're called to do' and I never understood it," said Kiernan.
Kiernan opened Shae's Place in Vancleave to offer after-school programs for middle school and high school students. She needed a job that would accommodate her schedule, so she turned to substitute teaching.
Kiernan knows her daughter would be so proud of her today.
"She would probably say, 'Thanks mom for never giving up and thank you for doing what God had asked you to do'. In my heart, I know this is what I'm supposed to do because this is proof. This is God's grace. It's amazing. I'm grateful," said Kiernan.
This is the second time that a substitute teacher from South Mississippi has won the national award. Last year's winner came from Biloxi High School.