MURRAYVILLE — Shane Rayburn grew up mystified that others, including his brother, didn’t enjoy school as much as he did.
He couldn’t shake that burden for others, so he turned it into a lifetime pursuit.
"I was very much driven toward how you help kids who are struggling or (for whom) school just doesn’t come easy," said Rayburn, who teaches first-graders at Lanier Elementary School in North Hall.
"My passion has been finding new ways, new pathways to helping up open that learning for lots of kids."
His hard work is paying off in personal ways, as the 37-year-old was recognized earlier this school year as Lanier’s Teacher of the Year for 2009-10. He since has been named the Hall County school system’s Teacher of the Year.
The Georgia Department of Education sponsors the annual program and plans to announce the state’s top teacher in a banquet in May.
"It’s a real honor, a humbling honor," Rayburn said.
He recalls the day Superintendent Will Schofield visited his class to announce the award.
"It was a real humbling reaction for me. I was nearly speechless, and the kids clapped and gave hurrahs," Rayburn said. "Then, almost in that same moment, they returned to their recess."
And for Rayburn, it was back to pushing his students to achieve at higher levels than they even think possible, a philosophy that manifests itself in several ways, from the way he decorates his room to the class work displayed in the hall outside his class.
Suspended from the ceiling of his class are mobiles depicting objects that soar, such as a man on a hang glider and a hot air balloon.
Students who are avid readers are recognized in a hallway display. The more books they have read, the higher a cut-out rocket bearing their name and picture is placed on the wall.
Also, a sign outside Rayburn’s door declares, "Come on in and learn new stuff!"
Students "know that there are goals and (about) reaching their goals," he said. "It’s really been a thematic nature of our classroom to pull together and say, ‘We’ve got to reach new heights.’"
Rayburn wins praise for his work ethic from Lanier’s principal, John Wiggins.
"He’s an excellent, excellent teacher who works very well to meet the needs of all his students," he said. "... He also works well with all our other teachers. They respect him and look up to him."
Wiggins also described Rayburn as a "scholar."
"He just wants to learn and learn and learn," he said.
The teacher’s own history reflects that.
Rayburn, who attended school in Thomaston and then Douglasville as a youngster, has earned three degrees, including his doctorate from the University of Georgia in 2003.
After getting the doctorate, he worked as a part-time assistant professor at UGA.
He and his wife, Jennifer, a Gainesville dentist, "had young children at the time, so I played kind of the stay-at-home dad during the day and taught coursework for the college at night."
However, "as our children reached schooling age, I turned the corner with them and thought this was a good time to go back to the public school setting," Rayburn added.
He arrived at Lanier in 2007, working in his first year as a special education teacher.
He moved to first grade this school year.
Rayburn has spent of his career teaching early grades, but his first teaching job was in 1993 at a high school. The job served to motivate him as an educator.
"I had kids who were struggling, who were practically nonreaders," he said. "... I knew right then, really deep down, that there had to be a place for much, much earlier intervention.
"We’ve got a lot of research that says if they’re not reading pretty solidly by third grade, believe it or not, there’s a correlation with the prison population."
As much as he believes in students achieving fundamentals, he doesn’t believe higher learning should be pushed to the wayside.
"We need to be asking, ‘Where are we pushing every kid, no matter where they are or what they are bringing to the table?’" Rayburn said. "I think we live in an age that proficiency and competency are not enough anymore.
"It’s not enough just to accomplish what the expectation is, but it’s pushing beyond."