LAFAYETTE — Anderson Middle School teacher Zachary Mitchell Jr. was named the state’s 2012 Middle School Teacher of the Year during ceremonies Friday in Baton Rouge.

Mitchell began teaching five years ago and spent his initial year as a teacher overseas in Kyrgyzstan.

Mitchell said he felt drawn to the profession after learning of a need for English language teachers in central Asia and the Middle East.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from LSU, he set aside plans for law school to enroll in a teacher certification master’s program and journeyed to Kyrgyzstan.

The international experience continues to shape his teaching style today, he said in a May interview with The Advocate.

“It made me more patient because most of the students I taught there were English language learners, so I had to slow down things a lot,” he said in May. “It also made me creative. I had to find nonlinguistic representations for what I was teaching.”

Mitchell was one of eight finalists for the Middle School Teacher of the Year honor.

The winners were announced by the Louisiana Department of Education during the Fifth annual Cecil J. Picard Educator Excellence Symposium and Celebration.

April Giddens, of Natchitoches Magnet School, was named the state’s overall top teacher.

Other honorees included: Tara Soudelier, of Terrebonne Parish, Elementary School Teacher of the Year, and Emily Howell, of Lincoln Parish, High School Teacher of the Year.

As a finalist, Mitchell received prizes for his classroom and school that include: a Blue Bell Creameries ice cream party, one-year school site lease for SMART ideas concept mapping software and Community Coffee for a year for his school’s lounge.

In addition, Mitchell also received various gifts and gift certificates from local businesses and a total of $3,000 from Dream Teachers, a nonprofit organization created to recognize the state’s educators and educational leaders.