Irene Dugdale Lee, named Department of Defense Education Activity 2005 Teacher of the Year, in her Seoul American High School classroom on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

Irene Dugdale Lee, named Department of Defense Education Activity 2005 Teacher of the Year, in her Seoul American High School classroom on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A 32-year veteran educator at Seoul American High School was named 2005 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year.

Irene Dugdale Lee, bands and orchestra teacher, said she was surprised by Friday’s announcement.

“It’s an honor, but I really didn’t think I would get it,” said the De Smet, S.D., native. “It’s humbling to represent all of DODEA.”

According to Korea District officials, Lee is the first Korea-based teacher to earn the award. She now will compete with teachers selected as best in each state for the title of Council of Chief State School Officers National Teacher of the Year.

Lee credits students, parents and the school administration for creating an environment that allowed her to earn the award.

“I have great students who are willing to work with me,” she said of her beginning, intermediate and advanced bands, jazz ensemble and the only string orchestra in the Pacific.

She’s no stranger to awards. She was also named Korea District Teacher of the Year in 1996; Phi Delta Kappa Educator of the Year in 2002; and Jaycees Outstanding Young Educator of the Year in 1971 in Sisseton, S.D., to name a few.

She’s most proud, however, of receiving multiple awards in “Who’s Who Among American Teachers,” in which top-ranked collegiate students submit names of teachers who made a difference in their lives.

The difference Lee has made is one of the reasons Lisa Riehle, vocal director at Seoul American, nominated Lee for the award.

“She’s an inspirational teacher,” Riehle said. “She is the type of teacher I want my kids to have.”

Riehle said Lee always puts her students first.

“There is a constant string of alumni coming to visit her,” Riehle said. “Anyone who touches kids’ hearts … needs to be commended. I’m just so pleased that other people see the quality of education she gives.”

Woong Lee, 17-year-old Seoul American senior class president and band student, said his teacher is very deserving of the award.

“She’s a great teacher,” he said. “She has passion for what she does.”

Korea District administrators were happy to learn about the award.

“I’m ecstatic at the selection of Irene Lee. She is an exceptional educator, and totally dedicated to her curriculum,” Charlie Toth, Korea District superintendent, said Friday. “She is also totally dedicated to her students. This is a year-round endeavor for her. She has a real love for teaching and her students. And I think you see that, year after year, former students that come back to Korea always seek her out.”

Lee taught for five years in Germany, seven years at Seoul American Elementary and 15 years at Seoul American High School. She could retire in three years, but doesn’t plan on it.

“When it starts feeling like work, I’ll quit,” she said. “Music is fun.”

She travels to Washington this month for a DODEA Teacher of the Year forum. She’ll return in April for the national competition.

Does she think she’ll win the national award?

“Don’t count on interviewing me again,” she said laughing.

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