On Tuesday, the sixth annual Masters in Teaching program at Featherbone Communiversity honored nine local
educators for their dedication and tenacity in the classroom. Here are profiles of each and why they love to teach, in their own words.
World Language Academy
Teaches: Fourth-grade language arts and math
Years teaching: 6 years at World Language Academy, 9 years total
Teaching philosophy: The kids are the No. 1 motivators. When I think about Master Teacher, I feel like I just go and do my job every day. I just think if you’re doing your job and doing it for the kids, and making it a student-centered classroom and the kids are engaged and keeping them motivated and encouraged, then ... that’s just the job. That’s what it is.
Why did you choose to teach?: During my high school and college years, I worked for the YMCA. I was involved in the after-school program where I had the opportunity to work with a variety of students. I loved interacting with the kids and helping them with homework or reading with them. I would often collaborate with teachers in the building to find out about specific student needs or strategies that could help me better assist the children in the program. I loved seeing the smiles on their faces when they really understood something for the first time and started gaining confidence in themselves. Through the many experiences in this program, it became evident to me that I wanted a career working with children.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: There is nothing more rewarding! Whenever things get tough or overwhelming, you can look around the classroom and see the faces of children that are excited and engaged. I get to talk to my students daily, listen to their stories, hear their passions, see them investigate and make discoveries, and watch them grow. I learn from them every day. It’s amazing at how easy it is to fall in love with a new group of kids each year. There is never a dull moment and it’s so much fun. While all of this is happening, there is the hope that I’m making a difference in the life of a child.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: When I first began working at World Language Academy, I was given the opportunity to teach reading and writing in a unique workshop model. This model is completely student-centered and differentiated to meet individual needs. It was the first time in my teaching career where I was encouraged to give students a choice in what they want to read or write, and to spend quality time talking and listening to them share about their choices. This changed my whole idea of what teaching should look like. Since that year, I have continued to experiment with student-centered learning. It has been amazing to see the difference that it makes in student engagement and motivation and success. With this type of classroom, I am able to serve as the facilitator while the students take ownership of their learning. This allows me time to have valuable conference time with individual students. I know my students and where they are in the learning process better than I ever imagined possible. I have been given many opportunities to share this model with other teachers and interns. My hope is that others will be as encourages as I have been.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: Do not ever forget why you are in the profession. As educators, it’s easy to get caught up in the busy work and the constant change. But the students are reason you are there. Each person in your classroom is an individual and has unique needs. It is our job to meet those needs and help that person reach his full potential.
University of North Georgia, Gainesville campus
Years teaching: 33 years
Teaching philosophy: Great teachers don’t just happen. They work at what they do, and if they stop working at it then they go from “good” to “just OK” rather quickly.
Why did you choose to teach?: I get a lot of satisfaction from playing a part in the learning success of my students. I draw inspiration from my students and I enjoy what I do every day. Teaching has always given meaning and purpose to my life. It is the vehicle that allows me to make a difference in the lives of others.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: I am motivated by the opportunity to use my teaching skills to interact positively with others. I help to mold the future of another and that is very gratifying to me. I am passionate about my subject and I like to impart my enthusiasm to others. I truly believe that education is life-changing, and I am proud to be part of an enterprise that improves lives.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: I have a lot of memorable moments that are tied to the success of my students. I get really excited by a student who struggles at first and then gets better and better in my class or lab over time. I love watching a student grow academically and mature as a person. I have always appreciated the feedback that I get from former students who benefited from what I taught them. It’s awesome when the education a student receives helps them to learn more about themselves and realize their dreams.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: Prepare for every lecture and every lab. Maintain high expectations of your students. Treat students with respect and dignity. Always care about your students and their success. Test fairly and challenge your students to be all that they can be. Stay positive and hang in there when the emotional ups and downs seem to overwhelm you.
Teaches: Science methods to pre-service early childhood and middle grades majors
Years teaching: 4 years at Brenau, 37 years total
Teaching philosophy: I’ll try anything once. I won’t jump out of a plane, but when it comes to the classroom, if somebody has an idea of a classroom technique, I will try it. I find that everybody has their own individual teaching style, just like students have learning styles.
Why did you choose to teach?: I have always loved science and I wanted to share my passion for science with others. Teaching seemed like the perfect venue. I’m sure this love stems from the many experiences I had traveling with my parents as a family. I was fortunate that they were both teachers and shared their passion for knowledge.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: Since I work with undergraduate students studying to be future teachers, I want them to appreciate the wonder and awe of science. Through the use of discovery learning and inquiry, science connects learning to real life situations.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: Teaching science takes a lot of planning. There are also many behind-the-scenes preparations such as gathering and organizing materials. Once everything is set, it’s a thrill to observe as students take over their own learning.
What advice do you have to other teachers?: Teaching is a profession. No one would ever want to see a doctor who did not stay current with the best practices in medicine through reading medical journals and attending conferences. As a teacher, join professional organizations, read scholarly educational journals and attend at least one national education conference a year. For teachers of science, I recommend the National Association of Science Teachers.
Gainesville Middle School
Teaches: Sixth-grade social studies
Years teaching: 17 years in Gainesville, 26 years total
Teaching philosophy: It’s definitely a calling in my life. I know that God has called me to share my life with teaching students, for caring for them and for educating them and bringing out achievement in their lives. Character is very big in my classroom.
Why did you choose to teach?: From a young age, I have always known that I was called and equipped by God to teach. I truly enjoy investing my life into the lives of students by meeting their needs.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: My motivation lies in knowing that I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students, to help encourage parents and to support my fellow teachers and administrators in their jobs.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: I was explaining to my students one day the meaning of “standard of living.” I was making a real-life application with them by sharing what I had seen in other countries on mission trips such as lean-to shacks with dirt floors that was someone’s home, schools that were open air with just a bench for the students to sit on, et cetera. Suddenly a young sixth-grader, in all innocence, raised his hand. I called on him and he responded in a very humble and sincere tone, “Mrs. McMillan ... I know what you are talking about.” A hush flew over the room as this young student just brought my whole point to truly “real” life for the class.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: I absolutely love mentoring other teachers. I have had the opportunity to have two great ladies to mentor in the last couple of years. I always share to be positive, be happy and have fun in the best job in the world ... equipping the lives of students academically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
Sardis Enrichment Elementary School
Years teaching: 15 years in Hall County, 20 years total
Teaching philosophy: I believe that every child can learn. I believe that every child is a gift from God. Parents send us the very best that they have, and it’s our job to bring out the best that we can in them, to love them, to make them feel safe and secure so that they can learn anything possible.
Why did you choose to teach?: I know I can make a difference in the lives of children and families. In our lives we are filled with “busyness” and at times adversity. I love to know that I can go to school everyday and be a positive influence. Children need to know they are cared for and safe, and then their learning potential is limitless. I want to be the bright place in their day.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: I am a motivated person to begin with so motivation has never been an issue. I am motivated by teaching because it is a challenge and I get to see so many successes on a daily basis.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: It has to be my first year teaching! I started my teaching career in Gwinnett County, and taught there for five years. On the first day of school, Jonathan’s mother walked up to me and said, “I know this is your first year teaching but you have to know that I have been praying for you since Jonathan was first born. I prayed for a teacher that would him fall in love with school and I am so thankful you are the one.” I have never forgotten her words. I still get Christmas cards from them every year!
What advice do you have for other teachers?: It would be to listen. Listen to your children. Listen to their families. Listen to them talk. Listen to their stories, to their laughter, to their tears. Listen to their hearts. Listen to their academic language and knowledge. They have to know you care and have time for them. Listening creates an optimal learning environment for learning.
Lanier Technical College
Teaches: Adult education
Years teaching: 24 years
Teaching philosophy: Find out where they’re at, and where they want to go. (Find out) what their goals are, and then how I can help them along with my team, because it’s a team effort.
Why did you choose to teach?: I decided to stay in the adult education field because I felt a connection to my students. I wanted to do whatever I could to help them reach their goals.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: Easy answer — the students! I admire their fortitude. I have so much respect for (English as a Second Language) and GED students who want to keep learning and reach their goals. They inspire me. They make me want to be the best teacher I can be. Also, I am surrounded by the best team of administrators, teachers, support staff and a very caring volunteer board. I have had and have some inspirational mentors whose guidance allowed me to grow in this field.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: This is a difficult question to answer. It’s not just one moment, but ESL lessons center around life skills. After class when students come up and tell me how much they enjoyed the lesson because it specifically met a need in their lives, it just makes my day. Another teaching moment is when I push my students to think about going to Lanier Tech. Many times, at first, students won’t consider it. Then with some confidence building, some change their minds and go for it. It’s awesome.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: The same advice my mentors gave me: Always be aware of your students’ needs. Think outside the box. If it works, great. If not, revise or move on. Expect the best from your students and yourself.
Gainesville High School
Teaches: American government
Years teaching: 4 years
Teaching philosophy: When I was in college, I asked a professor “What’s the secret?” And he said, “Kids don’t come to school to learn. Kids come to school to be entertained. If you can entertain them, you can teach them.”
Why did you choose to teach?: Honestly, my original plan was to join the Peace Corps after college; teaching was not the intended goal. However, after further research and meeting my future wife, I decided the Peace Corps might have to wait. After that, I began to take note of how my college professors taught, things I loved and things I hated. And while the positive things certainly outweighed the negative, I started to imagine how I would run my classroom and relate to my students. I wanted to get outside the ABCs and 123s. I wanted to teach life. I wanted my students to not only learn new things but apply that knowledge in the real world. So when one of my kids goes out and votes for the first time, I can take a little bit of pride in knowing that just maybe I had something to do with that.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: Even after the most frustrating days as a teacher, I still can’t picture myself in any other profession. Teaching is unique in the sense that our products are living, breathing people. What we give them is hopefully the foundation for their adulthood. So my motivation comes from seeing my work in action and from seeing these kids get out there and be strong, confident and knowledgeable.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: There are so many. It’s difficult to choose just one. Several times, especially during election years, I have asked my students to go out and really get to know their politicians. Just last year, I encouraged my classes to attend rallies, fundraisers, et cetera. After class, a student came up and told me she had not only attended an event, but her mother had eagerly accompanied her. She said they both learned things that night. My heart was so full of pride. Not only had a teenager actually listened to my advice, but she had gotten her mom in on the process as well. It was a rare moment that I truly felt like I was making a difference.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: I feel like I still need advice, myself! But overall, I would say remember that those kids sitting in your classroom are human beings first, students second. No matter how gruff they might act, they are just like you were at one point in your life. Respect them, even on the toughest days. Show them what you expect of them, don’t just stand up there and say it. Keep it real, but inspire them to dream.
Riverside Military Academy
Years teaching: 3 years at Riverside, 13 years total
Teaching philosophy: Instead of having passive voice when you write “to be” verbs and things like that — ‘to be educated’ is passive. But if I can get my kids up and doing education, more of it sticks. And that’s my objective. If we can add some fun to it on top of that, then it’s really sticking.
Why did you choose to teach?: Some people are called to teach, but not me. I picked it. I have always loved working with youth and knew that with teaching, I would have a captive audience.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: Education is interesting. Colleagues are inspiring, but students motivate me to keep going more than anything. When a students gets the “lifetime learning” thing, or the “No excuse is as good as the job done” thing or the “Vietnam was hard, homework is not” thing, that is the caffeine in my teaching coffee and at Riverside, that happens every day.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: My most memorable teaching moment is a collage. It is not one single snapshot. For example, we have parades once a month at Riverside where the Corps of Cadets march onto the field and the president conducts a pass and review. Seeing 500 young men flawlessly execute such an effort is a celebration as far as I’m concerned. Still, if I must be held to the one memorable moment from the collage, it would have to be when one of my students taught me what it meant to be involved outside of the classroom. A former student, Jacob Deem, asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him to attend West Point. Even though I was flattered, I suggested to the Commandant that he counsel Deem on the value of having someone with rank or title write such a letter. Col. Jarrard insisted that Jacob was right to ask someone that knows him well and that I was the perfect candidate for the job. Humbled, I knew I was writing the most important letter I had ever written and will likely ever write. Subsequently, through Deem’s hard work and a tiny little letter, Deem received his principal appointment to West Point from Congressman (Jack) Kingston and will attend West Point in July. Deem taught me how to be more involved with students outside the classroom, a lesson that is the greatest reward for me as a teacher and one that comes in handy, particularly at a boarding school like Riverside.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: I’m a tough teacher. The cadets will tell you in a second. The first six weeks of school, I have a few haters. If I don’t, I think I must be doing something wrong. During those weeks, I tell them that I don’t teach with a lecture, a handout and homework. This is the script so many of them are used to, so when I come along, I teach outside of their comfort zone. This makes for a few tiny rebellions but I shall not be moved. I’ve seen this method work too much to change it. Adjust it, yes. But I’m sticking with the educational journey successes that attest to the method. I have a student-centered, proactive classroom where students will not “be educated” but will instead “do education.” I believe to be educated is a passive education, but doing education is active and more likely to stick. And don’t forget the intangibles! High expectations, teach students to make it happen and not make excuses, teach them that incomplete work is like driving a car with three tires — worthless. Teach them that their work is their reputation. Teach them that they can trust you. Teach them that they can create their own reality. Teach them that it is never too late to learn. Teach them to “sit in the big chair” one day. Teach them that gossip is the lowest form of entertainment. Teach them that we all deserve second chances, and obstacles are not barriers. Teach them how to catch, not how to fish. You can catch up on your sleep when you retire.
Years teaching: 13 years
Teaching philosophy: My goal is to make sure that kids love to learn, and that they have the technology skills that they need to move into the 21st century.
Why did you choose to teach?: Teaching allows me to bring together my love of children and need to be creative. The process of integrating technology so that it will be relevant, content rich and innovative is very fulfilling and enjoyable for me.
What motivates you to keep doing it?: When I see the spark in the students’ eyes as they think, create and learn, it is very motivating to me because I know that these experiences have lit their curiosity about the world and perhaps serve as a springboard to encourage their lifelong learning.
What’s your most memorable teaching moment?: As I greet seniors in the Upper School hallways, I remember them as young students who could barely reach the keyboards. I’m proud and amazed at the development of their unique skills and abilities, and only hope that my efforts have played a small role in this.
What advice do you have for other teachers?: Try to engage and connect with your students by keeping your lessons current, allowing them to have choices so that they can take ownership of their learning and doing something that matters.