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Get to Know George Hawkins – 2024 South Dakota Teacher of the Year

Meet the 2024 South Dakota Teacher of the Year: George Hawkins, a social studies teacher at Jefferson High School in Sioux Falls. George, who is in his 12th year of teaching, did not follow a traditional path to the classroom. Prior to finding his way to the school building he was a practicing attorney. Now, he shares his love of history and civics through project-based learning. SDEA had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in George’s classroom where his ability to masterfully engage students was on full display. Whether the topic was fiscal policy or oil trusts, it was abundantly clear why students loved to be in Mr. Hawkins’ class. George took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions to help our readers get to know the 2024 Teacher of the Year.
2024 South Dakota Teacher of the Year, George Hawkins
Published: November 16, 2023

Tell us more about you — hometown, family, education…anything you want your fellow SDEA members to know?

I grew up in Watertown, SD after moving there when I was three years old; we moved due to my father’s work, but he soon took a job at Lake Area Tech.  I had a stay-at-home mom who instilled the values of hard work, loyalty, and caring for others in me and my two older sisters.  I graduated from Watertown High School in ‘99 and eventually received my Bachelor’s degree from Augustana College (now University) in 2004.  I pursued my teaching certificate but instead went to the USD School of Law and received my Juris Doctorate.  Having come back to the teaching profession I became the 2016 James Madison Fellow for South Dakota, which allowed me to obtain a Master’s degree from Ashland University in American History and Government.

What was your initial thought when you heard your name announced as the South Dakota Teacher of the Year?

Pure shock. I felt that the other finalists were tremendous representatives of our teaching profession and thus one of them was going to be selected.  It didn’t feel real then, and it doesn’t feel real even now.

What are you most looking forward to over the next year?

Getting to meet and know the other states’ Teacher of the Year.  From what Alyssa has said, this is the best year of professional development.  I’m interested in learning from others and then bringing it back to the classroom to make a better classroom for my students.

What do you see as some of the greatest challenges facing public school educators and students in the coming years?

Teacher shortages and burnout.  Educators are a vitally important component of our educational system and school districts are facing issues regarding a lack of adult bodies to fill the necessary roles to make schools function effectively.

What advice do you have for teachers who are just entering the profession?

Make time for yourself.  You’ll be overwhelmed at times and make sure to connect with friends and family or whatever keeps you grounded and refreshed.

Is there something your students know about you that others may not?

I studied abroad in China for a semester while an undergrad student.

Best method of self-care?

Relaxing night with family or friends.

What is the one lesson you hope that students take from your class?

They are capable of much more than they think they are capable of.  Many times, students get stuck believing that they cannot because they haven’t done it before.  Sometimes it just takes a small accomplishment for students to see that there is more to them than they thought.

Any parting words of wisdom?

As Minor Meyers said, “Go into the world and do well.  But more importability, go into the world and do good.”


Hawkins will go on to represent South Dakota in the National Teacher of the Year award ceremony in Washington D.C. next spring. As an SDEA member, George also received a$1000 SDEA Innovation Grant.


It's about our kids.

The South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) is a professional organization working hard for educators, so they can continue to work hard for our kids. SDEA members provide a wide range of professional education services in communities throughout the state.