Fayette County Teacher of the Year finalists named

Friday is usually the favorite day of the week for most people, and for three teachers, it was a day that they will not soon forget.

The Teacher of the Year prize patrol made surprise classroom visits on Jan. 29 congratulating the three finalists selected to vie for the 2010 Fayette County Teacher of the Year title. The three finalists are Sally Meyer, Crabapple Lane Elementary; Jamie Munoz, Bennett’s Mill Middle; and Carrie Collins, Peeples Elementary.

The winner will be announced on April 22, at 6 p.m., during the Teacher of the Year ceremony at New Hope Baptist Church, North Campus.

For Sally Meyer, a gifted teacher at Crabapple Lane Elementary, a career in education was not her first choice. She was a successful banker, a highly ranked employee who enjoyed her work, but was unsatisfied.

“Have you ever felt like a misfit? That’s how I felt. The corporate culture left me unsatisfied because every decision I made was impersonal,” she said.

She decided to change careers and become a teacher because school had always been a positive place where she felt successful. Now, she applies what she learned in banking to make real life connections to math and social studies.

Meyer creates her own teaching units that focus on the Georgia Performance Standards. Her original curriculum integrates subjects and links real life to school.

“I enthusiastically share my sense of wonder and love of learning through original units that require critical thinking, are based on my own learning adventures and make specific connections to real life outside of school,” she said.

Meyer has presented her original teaching units at annual conferences and some of them have received awards and honors from various organizations. They are also used as part of the curriculum for gifted students in the Fayette County Public School System.

Although she has received recognitions for her teaching accomplishments, she says the accomplishment that makes her most proud is the impact she has on children everyday.

“I see it in the excitement and pride shown when they have worked through their frustration and finally understand a concept. I feel it in my heart when I have to say good-bye or when I read the newspaper and learn that one of my former students accomplished a personal goal,” she said.

Meyer sets high expectations for her students and tells them that when a brain is stretched, it says “thank you.” When her students struggle, she praises their efforts and facilitates progress by tutoring, developing specialized lessons and sponsoring clubs.

Looking back on her decision to leave the corporate world to be become a teacher, Meyer says she has no regrets.

“Twelve years later, I still love teaching; it is the perfect career match for me. It has allowed me to make decisions with my heart, not just my head, and seeing the positive impact I have had on adolescents has been exceptionally rewarding,” she said.

Meyer has taught for 12 years in the Fayette County Public School System. She started her teaching career at Peeples Elementary and has worked at Cleveland, Tyrone and Robert J. Burch elementary schools prior to teaching at Crabapple Lane.

Like her colleague, Jamie Munoz, a science teacher at Bennett’s Mill Middle, didn’t dream about becoming a teacher when she was young. Instead see dreamed about a corner office with a wall of windows, a leather chair and a big executive desk. She was on her way to achieving this dream, majoring in accounting at the University of Georgia, when her dream started to change.

She volunteered for a nonprofit organization, Reading is Fundamental, and worked with second grade students at a local elementary school where she discovered she enjoyed watching them grow in their reading skills. A summer job as a camp counselor later solidified her decision to change her major to education.

Munoz says part of being a great teacher is the willingness to want to entertain students to help them learn. She says building relationships with students is integral to their success. Students learn more if they respect, enjoy and feel connected to the teacher.

“I am willing to stand on my head, to amuse, for the sake of students’ learning. If learning can be both educational and fun, why not capitalize on both?” she asked.

Much of the learning that occurs in her classroom is hands-on, interactive and collaborative. Students often work cooperatively within groups because the shared effort requires students to employ communication and critical thinking skills. She also utilizes students’ interest in music and technology.

“I teach students songs and raps with lyrics depicting scientific concepts, and I encourage students to take advantage of the innovative technology to access relevant science data and present their findings,” Munoz said.

Munoz loves watching students experience light bulb moments and delights in the fact that she is the reason they are able to grasp complex scientific theories.

“Although I may not have a corner office with a wall of windows as I had once planned, my classroom is on the corner of the sixth grade and main hallways, and the view into the delicate minds of our future is often breathtaking,” she says.

Munoz has been teaching in the Fayette County Public School System for 10 years. She began at Whitewater Middle as a science, math and reading teacher before moving to Bennett’s Mill.

Carrie Collins, a kindergarten teacher at Peeples Elementary, always knew she wanted to be a teacher, more specifically, a kindergarten teacher. She loved playing school with her sisters, but her real inspiration was her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Walker.

“She had a way of making me feel special in a classroom full of students needing the same attention. She was interested in my life and that made me interested in hers,” said Collins.

Collins tries to emulate Mrs. Walker in her classroom by forming relationships with students, motivating those who seem impossible to motivate and inspiring students that need the extra push to be all that they can and more.

“It makes me feel wonderful to reach a student who struggles academically, socially or behaviorally. I know I have made a profound impact when these types of students look forward to coming into my classroom, smile when they see me outside of school, and send me notes years after completing kindergarten,” she said.

Collins realizes that students learn at different levels; she sets up her classroom so that high performing students are challenged and those who need extra help are equally supported. One way she engages all learners is by creating songs with motions to teach everything from oceans and continents to money skills.

“I know all students can learn and achieve at high levels if given appropriate resources and adequate time,” she said.

She also believes that students need to feel safe and have a sense of belonging in order to learn. She says her students feel comfortable working, exploring, taking risks and learning because they think of the classroom as a second home.

“We often take time to acknowledge feelings, celebrate successes, comfort friends, and assist each other with problem solving,” she added.

Collins has taught in Fayette County for 11 years at Peeples Elementary.