Hearty congratulations and much love goes out to my cousin (2nd cousin actually) Samuel Bennett, who just moments ago was named Florida State Teacher of the Year for 2006!

Sam (pictured to the right in his classroom) teaches Fifth Grade at Garner Elementary School in Winter Haven, Florida and was one of five finalists for the Florida Department of Education /Macy’s Teacher of the Year program. To read more about Sam and his amazing work, check out this article: “Polk Man Is Finalist For Teacher of Year.”

Cousin Sam — who began his career as a police officer (if I recall family lore correctly) and is an ordained minister — gave credit to God, his wife, and his parents, my Great Aunt Sue and Uncle Luke, according to the Orlando Sentinel:

Calling the award a “tremendous and humbling honor,” Bennett gave credit to God for instilling a love of teaching; and to his wife, Debbie, for being his best friend. He credited his mother with teaching him to look for the good in everyone and, when he finds it, to nurture it; and his father, who died in 1990, with tenacity.

Please join the rest of the Everett and Bennett clans in congratulating Sam and his family, and wishing him continued success as he uses this position as Teacher of the Year to encourage great people to take up teaching, and to encourage great teachers to become even better!

Update: Here’s the official FL Department of Education press release.