Wal-Mart community coordinator Dianne McCullough said students in all five schools in The South Missourian News coverage area -- Alton, Couch, Koshkonong, Mammoth Spring and Thayer -- are encouraged every year to participate in the selection of the local Teacher of the Year.
"We place a box at the front of our store and students submit the name of their favorite teacher. We count the votes and the teacher with the most votes wins," she said.
McCullough said usually all five schools are contacted prior to the beginning of the voting. She said this year the box was placed in the front of the store Feb. 25 and students had a month to vote.
Thornton has been teaching 6th grade at Thayer for 21 years. He is a 1981 graduate of Mammoth Spring High School and a 1986 graduate of Arkansas State University.
Thayer Elementary School 6th grade is the only place and the only grade Thornton has taught.
Thayer Elementary School received $1,000 on Thornton's behalf. Thornton received a $100 Wal-Mart gift card, a certificate and a shirt naming him Teacher of the Year.
"All the Wal-Marts across the state that participate in the Teacher of the Year contest will now send their winners in to the state contest. The winner at the state level receives $10,000. The state winners then automatically go the national Teacher of the Year contest. The national winner wins $25,000," McCullough said.
Winning Teacher of the Year was a surprise to Thornton, and he was pleased so many of his former and current students voted for him.
"This tells me maybe I am making a difference. This tells me the kids do respect me and that maybe I am making a positive difference in a kid's life," the teacher said.
He said after 21 years of teaching, students are not much different than the students he had in his class the first year he taught. "I always seem to go back to that first year of students and compare my classes with them," he said.
Thornton said, "This is not about me. Its about the kids I teach and how I affect them. I hope I instill in them a desire to not only be successful in school but in their life."
This is not the first teaching award Thornton has received. He was listed in the Who's Who Among America's Teachers by former students in the 1997-98, 1999-2000 and 2004-05 editions.