School: Johnson High School
Years teaching: 29
Advice for teachers: “Always be aware that you’re learning from everything around you and everybody around you. My goal in my classroom is to do that for others.”
School: Lakeview Academy
Years teaching: 22
Advice for teachers: “You’ve got to know you’re stuff, but you’ve also got to buy into relationships. Relationships are key probably in any profession, but in education, the better you are at establishing relationships, the better you will be.”
School: Lanier Technical College
Years teaching: 12
Advice for teachers: “Have a total love of people, all kinds of people, whether you teach kids or adults. You have to love people and be able to get along with a diverse group of people. It has to be your passion.”
School: Brenau University
Years teaching: 15
Advice for teachers: “Don’t be afraid of being who you are. You will connect with somebody as long as you are real and authentic. It’s all about that relationship.”
School: C.W. Davis Middle School
Years teaching: 10
Advice for teachers: “Be flexible and adaptable and focus on the relationships you build with colleagues and students.”
School: Gainesville Exploration Academy
Years teaching: five
Advice for teachers: “Ensure it is your passion before entering the career, and then that you wake up every day eager to teach your students and find new ways to reach them.”
School: New Holland Knowledge Academy
Years teaching: seven
Advice for teachers: “It’s a calling…. So love what you are doing, or figure out something that you do love. You won’t benefit students if you don’t love what you’re doing.”
School: University of North Georgia
Years teaching: 13
Advice for teachers: “The minute you think you’ve mastered something, that’s a sure sign you have a lot to learn.”
School: Riverside Military Academy
Years teaching: 22
Advice for teachers: “Be adaptable and have flexibility in working with young minds.”
Teachers are more than educators, they are facilitators of life experiences.
So observed Amanda Miliner, Georgia’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, on Monday at the Masters in Teaching, Life Changers at Work ceremony.
The seventh annual event, presented by Brenau University East Campus at Featherbone Communiversity, honored nine area educators for being masters of their craft: Matthew Gruhn, Lakeview Academy; Robert Hunter, Riverside Military Academy; Cynthia Kinsey, New Holland Knowledge Academy; Martina Hewitt, Gainesville Exploration Academy; Lisa Mills, C.W. Davis Middle School; Ann Brunk, Johnson High School; Terri Greene, Lanier Technical College; Sheri Hardee, University of North Georgia; and Linda Kern, Brenau University.
“Do you remember the teacher or teachers who changed your life?” asked Gus Whalen, founder of the Featherbone Communiversity. “We do. We don’t understand how they did it or why they chose us, but they did. So the idea of the Master Teachers series is to honor those great teachers, the best of the best.”
Many of the teachers honored said they don’t always feel like they have mastered their craft.
“I think the minute you think you’ve mastered something, that’s a sure sign you have a lot to learn,” said Hardee, an assistant professor in teacher education and coordinator of educational foundations at UNG. “I definitely don’t feel like a master teacher, and I think to be a master teacher just means you are an intentional educator. We always have more to learn.”
Gruhn agreed, and said the biggest challenge in teaching can be finding the right way to reach a student.
“A friend of mine gave me an example,” Gruhn said. “He said teaching is kind of like pushing a rock up a hill. You have to have the courage and strength every week, every month, every year, to keep pushing that rock up that hill.”
Many of the teachers said their biggest inspiration is the students in their classroom. Greene and Kern both said seeing their university students overcome huge obstacles in their lives is the biggest inspiration.
“I love eighth-graders,” said Mills. “They are a crazy group of people, and they think they’re at the top of the food chain…. But relating to them, they are at such an emotional state, so it’s just a neat group of kids. I just care for them.”
Kinsey said it’s important to maintain a passion for teaching, not to burn out. She said she loves her job today as much as her first day of teaching.
Hewitt said it’s important to be passionate about children. She didn’t originally plan to get into teaching, but decided to after working with children through a church organization.
“Working with children became a passion for me,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do it the rest of my life, to make a difference like I had teachers make a difference in my life.”
Brunk, who has taught for 29 years, and Hunter, who has taught for 22, both offered advice for future teachers and lessons they’ve learned through their lengthy careers.
“Every place I’ve gone to, I’ve had a student, many students, and a colleague who’s made a difference in my life,” Brunk said.
Hunter said teaching boys at Riverside has taught him about harnessing the attention of his students.
“I really get to know the boys personally,” he said. “I find something that each one is talented at doing outside the classroom, and I bring that up in the classroom.”
Miliner said she was grateful to be part of Monday’s event and was inspired by the nine area teachers.
“They all would say, ‘I don’t consider myself a master teacher,’ or ‘I never really thought of myself as a master,’” Miliner said of the honorees. “But that’s what masters are. They’re humble. They’re perfectionists at their craft, but they’re humble enough to know they need to keep learning, and they’re kind enough to share what they have learned with us.”