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Officials salute master teachers
C.E. “Gus” Whalen Jr., founder of Featherbone Communiversity, speaks before a roundtable discussion about education during the Masters in Teaching inaugural event Tuesday. The event recognized nine teachers from Gainesville and Hall County as master teachers. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Coming this week in The Times

Thursday: In a special multimedia presentation on, watch videos of the nine Master Teacher honorees in the classroom and hear what motivates them.

Sunday: Read profiles of each of the honorees.

Educators from across Hall County briefly left their classrooms and lecture halls to honor nine master teachers for their passionate service to the students of this community.

The Featherbone Communiversity teamed up with a local group of educators and community leaders to recognize teachers from schools and colleges in Hall County for the first "Masters in Teaching ... Life Changers at Work" event Tuesday morning.

Gus Whalen, founder of the Communiversity, spearheaded the awards and hosted the ceremony at the multi-institutional campus. Whalen said he intends for the event to become an annual one that recognizes the most effective teachers and professors in the area while defining and documenting the art of master teaching. He said also he hopes the event will inspire more people to enter the education field.

A committee of leaders from Gainesville and Hall County schools, Lakeview Academy, Lanier Technical College, Brenau University and Gainesville State College among other local institutions and businesses selected the nine teachers and professors honored Tuesday. Individuals from Challenged Child and Friends, public and private schools, technical and state colleges and universities were chosen to speak at the ceremony about the "heart of a master teacher" and the "mind of a master teacher."

Sally Krisel, rigor specialist for Hall County schools, was on hand at the awards ceremony and forum to document the commonalities between the nine teachers. Krisel also will digitally compile the different teachers’ various reasons for choosing their careers and how they’ve become educators who affect the lives of young people and the future of Hall County.

Whalen asked all attendees to turn off their cell phones and spend the morning actively listening to the master teachers. He also asked for attendees to consider that children are living messages we send to a time we will not see.

"Listen with a new set of ears, listen with a new heart," he said. "... Be open to the profound, the unusual, the magical."

The Rev. Bill Coates, pastor of Gainesville First Baptist Church, presided over the "heart of master teaching" portion of the event. Because his wife, Claire Coates, is a Hall County health sciences teacher, he has an idea of the courage required for good teaching.

Coates said he salutes teachers for the courage they muster each morning to face students, their complex issues and their parents. He said, too, that good teaching comes from good people with good hearts.

"The teacher that turns your life around or sets you on a new course or gave you hope — the one you remember so well — I guarantee that was a teacher with a heart, a good heart, a heart for the subject, a heart for you," he said.

As teacher after teacher took the helm of the podium to profess the reasons why they chose that career path, it became clear that one’s passion for their subject matter and a heart for tender youth were a common driving forces.

J.B. Sharma, a Gainesville State College physics professor honored Tuesday, said passion pushes teachers to impart their knowledge on students, and there’s nothing more delightful for a teacher than to see "that dawn of understanding in the students’ eyes."

"Other than that, all I can say is when you close the classroom door, it is paradise, because you are in this perfect world of ideas," Sharma said. "You are with these youngsters that are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and still want to save the world. ... So really in that sense, it is a most wonderful vantage point to watch this drama called life. To be around these wonderful youngsters that are the salt of the earth, and to watch them grow, it’s the most privileged seat that I have to sit and watch this unfold."

Leslie Frierson, a fourth-grade teacher at Centennial Arts Academy, was another educator honored Tuesday. She said she considered "more glamorous" careers in college, but always was drawn back to teaching. Frierson said she feels compelled to teach because she wants to help students realize their opportunities.

"The heart of great teaching, I think, is realizing that it’s important to make the children want to come to school and that you make the children want to see beyond the moment," she said. "Sometimes you’re the one that makes the biggest difference in their life and that’s why I do what I do — to encourage those children who maybe have not had anybody encourage them."

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, doled out the first master teacher awards to the group of teachers.

Deal, whose wife, Sandra Deal, taught in Hall County schools, said Gainesville is very fortunate to have this caliber of teaching excellence. The congressman challenged all the educators to continue to bring the best out of their students.

"This is a quotation, it says, ‘Most men die with the music still in them,’" Deal said. "And that is so true. Graveyards are full of unwritten symphonies. Your challenge in the education community is to bring out those hidden notes, those compositions that otherwise would never be heard. And it begins with teachers."