Fayette schools pick finalists for Teacher of the Year award

Fayette County School System's Teach of the Year finalists (L-R) Chris Cannon, Jacqueline Mullen and Malia Bergstrom. Photos/Special.

The Fayette County School System has announced its three finalists for Fayette County Teacher of the Year 2012. They are Chris Cannon from Sandy Creek High School, Malia Bergstrom from Fayette County High School and Whitewater High School’s Jacqueline Mullen.

School system spokesperson Melinda Berry-Dreisbach said there was no doubting a career in journalism for Chris Cannon, an advanced placement government and economics teacher at Sandy Creek High.

“He lived and breathed broadcasting and journalism as a student at Fayette County High. He says he was so excited about the field that he did not consider any others; journalism was it,” Berry-Dreisbach said of Cannon who joined the Sandy Creek staff in 2008.

Berry-Dreisbach said that two years into college at Georgia State University, Cannon took an Introduction to American Government class with a professor who knew how to make government real and practical for his students. Cannon wondered why his high school experience had not been like this. That’s when he began to change his mind about journalism.

“I am proud to say, 10 years later, that not only do I still believe those things, but I now actually practice them daily in the classroom,” Cannon said.

Another finalist is Malia Bergstrom, who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Fayette County High School. She originally taught at the school in 1979-1980 then returned in 2005.

“Teaching was not on Malia Bergstrom’s radar either,” said Berry-Dreisbach. “In fact, it was on a short list of things she vowed to never do, right alongside sales. Ironically, she ended up doing both successfully, but teaching is the job that has brought her the greater challenge, joy and sense of accomplishment.

After 20-year absence from teaching in Fayette to establish a successful business career, Bergstrom returned to the classroom in 2005.

“I wrestle daily with ways to engage every learner. As I grow as a teacher, I try to leave questions unanswered, to find ways to let students explore in discussion, in lab work, in reading and in writing. I look for materials that encourage inquiry, that prompt good questions and that give me ideas that I can use to encourage exploration,” Bergstrom said.

Fayette’s third finalist for teacher of the year is Jacqueline Mullen who teaches math at Whitewater High School. Mullen’s career sprang from her time as a high school senior, watching her brother with a learning disability diagnosis struggle with algebra.

“We tried to help him, but I felt that he need a teacher in the classroom to provide guided examples, test reviews, and most importantly, believe in him,” said Mullen. “He ended up failing three semesters of math and is still embarrassed by his math ability today.”

Mullen, who uses songs, dances and games to hold her students’ attention, said to be an outstanding teacher she must show students respect, provide them with a safe learning environment, exercise plenty of patience, have a strong knowledge of the content and strive for interesting presentations of the subject matter.

“The ability to help students succeed, especially when they are confused and frustrated, is compensation for all my hard work,” Mullen said. “Teaching is more than a job that I love; it is part of who I am. I feel blessed and thankful everyday that I am able to be a teacher.”

The Fayette County Teacher of the Year 2012 will be announced on April 19. The winner will be in the running for the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition in 2013.

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