For once in her life, Dianne Whatley was speechless.

Friday morning, Whatley received a surprise visit and a coveted award from two representatives of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5870. Named as VFW District 12's "Teacher of the Year," Whatley's name has now been submitted for a state award and possibly national recognition.

Even if she doesn't get a national award, it's clear Atlanta Elementary School's principal is a local favorite.

According to the VFW's website, teachers from across the country are nominated annually for the honor by their local VFW posts, and three exceptional teachers, one each from the elementary, junior high and high school levels, are recognized by the national VFW organization "for their outstanding commitment to teach Americanism and patriotism to their students."

Bill Brockett, commander of VFW Post 5870, said Whatley certainly fills that criteria and he submitted an essay about her to the post's district headquarters. Brockett said he didn't know how many nominations were submitted at the district level, but there are 24 posts in Texas District 12.

"This award is all thanks for all Dianne Whatley does for veterans through the programs at Atlanta Elementary School," Brockett said as he presented the plaque to her with the help of Post Quartermaster Charles Boone.

Brockett noted AES hosts programs each year on Veterans Day and on 9/11 during which veterans, as well as firefighters, police officers and first-responders are always welcomed and honored.

Writing of the Veterans Day tribute in his nomination essay, Brockett said, "She wants her students to grow up knowing about the veterans, and how they protected the freedom of the United States of America. Her husband was a veteran and she is a very proud American."

Principal of Atlanta Elementary School since 2007, Whatley began her career as a first grade teacher at AISD in 1974. Through the years, she's taught primary, elementary and high school students and in 1997 she became an elementary school principal at James Bowie ISD.

Three years later Whatley took the job of assistant principal at Morris Upchurch Middle School in Queen City. In 2002, she was named principal at J.K. Hileman Elementary in Queen City, and five years later she returned home to her alma mater, Atlanta, as AES principal.

Texas VFW District 12 includes posts in Lindale, Winnsboro, Longview, Troup, Paris, Mt. Pleasant, Gilmer, Sulphur Springs, Mt. Vernon, Marshall, Tyler, Texarkana, Mineola, Bogata, Maud, Daingerfield, Linden, New Boston, Jefferson, Pittsburg and Kilgore.

Per the VFW website, the Teacher of the Year awards are given to "teachers who promote civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism are prime candidates for the award… (teachers) who plan field trips to city hall, organize community volunteer projects or invite local veterans to speak in class, anything to help students develop a better understanding of democratic values and beliefs…"

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