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JOY PLUS: Teacher Legislation | Returning to Work After Retirement TeacherPipeline Pipeline Legislation | Georgia Teacher of the Year

FOR AN UPGRADE UPGRADE YOUR CERTIFICATE WHILE YOU TEACH WITH OUR 100% ONLINE PROGRAMS — WITH NO GRE! You love teaching. You love your students and the way their minds light up in a lesson. And you’re ready for what’s next. Ready to upgrade your skills. Chase a new specialization. Make the move to administration. Reach a new pay grade. But leaving the classroom to go back to school? No way. At Georgia Southern University’s College of Education, we offer 15 fully-online master’s and specialist programs that lead to certificate upgrades for teachers and educational leaders — with no GRE requirements. That means you can stay in the classroom while you take the next step in your career. Coached by faculty with years and depth of experience in online instruction, you’ll learn the latest instructional skills and pedagogy to be a better teacher, specialize your teaching area or move into a leadership role. We’ll make sure you’re ready to inspire your students. Ready to teach. Ready to lead. Ready to get started? Visit

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Welcome Back, Dr. Hayward Cordy! PAGE and the PAGE Foundation welcome veteran educator Hayward Cordy, Ed.D., as Foundation president. Cordy brings more than 35 years’ experience as a Georgia educator to the role while continuing as executive director of Oconee RESA, where he has served since 2011. Cordy’s previous work with PAGE includes long-term service as a member of the Board of Directors — including a term as board president — and most recently with the educational equity team which is reviewing how PAGE’s professional learning supports educators in meeting the needs of all students. “The PAGE Foundation plays an integral role in recognizing student academic achievement, honoring educators, awarding scholarships, and supporting the work of PAGE,” said Cordy. “Serving as PAGE Foundation president is a natural progression following the many opportunities for service I’ve had with PAGE.”

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Professional Association of Georgia Educators Have You Transferred Systems? If you transferred from another school system where you were on payroll deduction, you must complete a short application (online or paper) to transfer your membership — otherwise your membership will expire. Student Members Your PAGE student membership does not cover you for a paid position in a school – even if your student membership has not expired. Please upgrade your student membership to professional, taking advantage of your first year half-price discount. Update Contact Information Please review and update your online profile to ensure that we have accurate contact information – including a personal email address as some school system filters will prevent receipt of messages.

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August/September 2021

Vol. 42 No. 3

Feature Success as a Georgia Educator: Notes from the Field 12  Veteran Teachers 19  Newer Teachers 26  Third Generation Teachers: It’s a Family Tradition 28  From the Banking Business to the LifeChanging Business 29  Head of the Class: 2022 Teacher of the Year & Finalists 4  In this Issue/From the Executive Director 6  PAGE MSRs and CSRs: Who Are They and How Can They Help?

7  Meet PAGE President, Dr. Oatanisha Dawson

10  A New Law Impacting Georgia’s Teacher Pipeline

8  President’s Column

32  Identify. Prepare. Recruit. Retain. Supporting Georgia’s Teacher Pipeline 34  Legal Column: Returning to Work Following Retirement

PAGE One Official Publication of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Our core business is to provide professional learning for educators that will enhance professional competence and confidence, build leadership qualities and lead to higher academic achievement for students, while providing the best in membership, legal services and legislative support.

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Executive Director Craig Harper

President Larry Lebovitz

Production Coordinator Megan Willis

Executive Editor Ramona Mills

Publisher John Hanna

Graphic Designers LaTria Garnigan Dolly Purvis

Editor Cory Sekine-Pettite

Advertising/Sales Sherry Gasaway 770-650-1102, ext.145

Graphic Designer Jack Simonetta


In This Issue

Success in the Profession Educator Insights & PAGE Initiatives

Another school year kicked off with continuing challenges in the battle against the pandemic — although with the additional safety measures of vaccines and nearly a year of experience with mitigating risks before vaccines were available. In this issue, we offer encouragement beyond the pandemic and focus on the factors that lead to success for educators and students, highlight exemplary educators who were selected as finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year, and share how you can apply for scholarships to help you in your classroom or further develop your expertise. Our feature articles share insights from educators throughout the state on the importance of building relationships with each student as the first, critical issue to increase the likelihood of success in all other areas. These educators also discuss the importance of establishing a professional network among peers, staying flexible, mas4  PAGE ONE

tering time management, and maintaining essential work/ life balance. Veteran teachers with decades of experience, as well as newer teachers with the latest insights, each offer their best suggestions for success during the critical first years in the profession — including seeking a mentor, remembering to have fun, and listening to students and others. PAGE One continues its recognition of the Georgia Teacher of the Year (GTOTY) and the finalists for this honor. We introduce Cherie Bonder Dennis of Hesse K-8 school in Savannah-Chatham County. Dennis, a PAGE member and ESOL educator, follows Tracey Pendley of Atlanta Public Schools who served a two-year term due to the unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic. The position took on added significance during Pendley’s term and moving forward because the GTOTY now sits on the State Board of Education in an advisory, non-voting caAugust/September 2021

pacity. Dennis and each of the other nine finalists offer their insights on the role of educators in our communities, the factors that lead to success, and the importance of relationships. Ensuring that the next generation of Georgia’s students benefit from highly effective educators in every classroom requires consistent attention to the teacher pipeline. Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia General Assembly passed a Teacher Pipeline bill last session that — among other measures — makes it easier to transition military veterans into the classroom, encourages recruitment of minority educators, and establishes expectations for mentorship of new or struggling educators. Several PAGE initiatives positively contribute to the pipeline from middle/high school through college and career. Learn more about these initiatives — including PAGE FGE (Future Georgia Educators) — in the “Identify. Recruit. Prepare. Retain” article in this issue. The teacher pipeline also benefits from generations of family members who commit their lives to education. Two such families share their stories and how their connections have influenced the most recent generation in the classroom. One of the ways to fill classroom vacancies — especially in hard-to-staff or rural areas — is through retired educators returning to work. The legal column provides information on issues to consider and the effect of pending legislation on this option for Georgia retirees. PAGE initiatives designed to help educators do their best work and continue in the profession include scholarships and grants. The PAGE Foundation has awarded more than $450,000 in scholarship funds to our members to date, including more than $21,000 this summer. You can learn more about the most recent winners and make plans to apply for a scholarship next spring at https://

“PAGE initiatives designed to help educators do their best work and continue in the profession include scholarships and grants.” funded by these grants have been featured in recent issues of PAGE One. Start making plans now to apply for a PAGE Educator Grant next calendar year. Look for an email announcement in December as the application opens for 2022 awards. As the year began and most districts conducted in-person new teacher orientations and back-to-school meetings, PAGE membership services representatives and college services representatives enjoyed getting back out to visit with you. Our relationships and connections with you are an important part of serving you. Anytime you have a question or need guidance, you can call on the MSR who serves your school district. Locate your representative and contact information on the service map on page 6 or on our website at We’re off on another exciting school year journey, sure to be full of challenges and rewards. Thank you for all you do for those you serve. And, we thank you for allowing us to serve you along the way as we support Georgia educators and public education. Let’s keep moving forward! 

Nearly 300 educators successfully applied for and received $150,000 in individual $500 PAGE Educator Grants over the last 18 months. Many of the projects

Executive Director Craig Harper joined PAGE in 2015 after more than 22 years in Georgia public school leadership positions. A certified trainer for Crucial Conversations and host of the PAGE Talks podcast, Harper holds a Master of Public Administration from Valdosta State University.

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PAGE MSRs and CSRs: Who Are They and How Can They Help? • Wondering who to reach out to when you have questions about your PAGE membership? • Have an issue or concern that you need to bring to PAGE’s attention – but aren’t sure what department or staff member to contact? • Interested in scheduling a Code of Ethics presentation at your school or district office? • Looking for information about a Future Georgia Educators (FGE) program or event? • Need to know the name of your PAGE building contact or how to subscribe to PAGE Capitol Reports? For answers to these questions and more, call or email your PAGE Membership Services Representative (MSR) or College Services Representative (CSR). View the map below to locate the name and contact information of the MSR / CSR in your area, or send general inquiries to

Membership Services Representatives

College Services Representatives

Jo Breedlove-Johnson District 3a jbreedlove@

North GeorGia

Nancy Ratcliffe District 7

Larrell Lewis District 4a

Laurie Provost District 3b lprovost@

Diann Branch District 9 Diane Ray

Kathy Arena District 10

Shirley Wright District 5


Gina Tucker District 4b (Clayton, APS)

Peggy Brown District 11 Linda Woods District 1

Jo Breedlove-Johnson

South GeorGia

BJ Jenkins District 6 Joey Kirkland District 12

Dale Gillespie Laura Clements District 13

Mary Ruth Ray Gwen Desselle District 2

Dale Gillespie District 8

Visit to access additional details about PAGE membership – including this MSR / CSR map. 6  PAGE ONE

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Meet PAGE President, Dr. Oatanisha Dawson


atanisha Dawson has always been a teacher: The eldest of four children, she helped her siblings learn to excel in their studies. At 15, she was tutoring first and second graders at the same neighborhood school she once attended. By 17, she was an official college prep student tutoring her peers during summer and on the weekends. Soon after, she entered Glynn County Schools as a paraprofessional and began pursuing her teacher certification. And, with each year, role, and season that has followed, Dawson has continued to teach. “I’ve long felt a call on my life to teach,” says Dawson. “It was in a sense a way to lend myself to others to help them reach a goal or meet a need. As I think about the students that I connect with each day,” she continues, “I am reminded that their needs are many, vast, far-reaching, and urgent — but not unique. This is the same for teachers and students across our state who are impacted by similar ‘unmet needs’ such as poverty, mental health preparedness, teacher pipeline, equity and access, early literacy, and so on. As educators, we know that help for these needs must not wait. Those willing to be part of the solution must take action. And, PAGE has been doing just that.” PAGE, says Dawson, has a long-standing reputation of true support. She relates one stand-out moment: She was talking with a PAGE staff member who spoke about the work of the organization benefitting students as well as teachers. “Though already a PAGE member prior to this conversation,” recalls Dawson, “I had never thought of PAGE in this way. I never thought that the support PAGE offered to me as an educator would directly impact the quality of instruction offered to my students. I only saw PAGE in one way.”

become more than just a member of PAGE. I wanted also to contribute to PAGE.”

“I wondered if other members made this same assumption,” Dawson continues. “I found many,” she recalls. “And I also found myself attempting to influence their thinking by sharing how our organization prioritizes professional development that focuses on current-day classroom issues and work towards developing teachers’ and leaders’ capacity to meet students’ needs. It was then that I wanted to

Soon after this realization, Dawson began her service on the PAGE Board of Directors. Slated to serve as president next fiscal year, Dawson stepped into the role this year following the decision by incoming president Megan King to resign from the board in order to pursue other goals. Dawson will serve a two-year term through June 2023. 

Photograph by Mike Force Photography

“Teachers and students across our state are impacted by similar unmet needs ... Those willing to be part of the solution must take action. And, PAGE has been doing just that.” August/September 2021


President’s Column

Dr. Dawson (fourth from left) with Goodyear Elementary students and staff

“Hello. How are you?” “I’m well and you?” This familiar greeting and response is an exchange focused on individuals and present circumstances. “How are the children?” “The children are well.” This lesser-known greeting and response, common to the Maasai culture, focuses on the future — the next generation. I share both greetings with each of you. Last school year, amid the ever-changing challenges of a global pandemic, Georgia educators stood strong — doing our best to provide students with continuity of learning, uninterrupted essential services, and much-needed emotional support. Now, in a new school year, the challenges related to COVID-19 continue to evolve. And we will continue to evolve with them — doing all that we can to ensure that the children are well.

Here is where I want to encourage you by sharing three principles that consistently help me as I continue to work toward that goal. It is my hope that they also be of help to you. Know Yourself As practitioners, we often live our profession. Our hearts and minds don’t easily shut-off simply because we have left the building or powered-off the computer. Many of us will then go on to read educational research, watch education-focused videos, listen to education-related podcasts, or seek out a peer with whom to engage in a conversation about education. All are great actions. All help us learn and grow in our profession. Yet, it is essential that we also prioritize ourselves. Self-care is the first move towards health care as we nourish our bodies with nutrients, exercise, non-education-focused conversations and

“The challenges related to COVID-19 continue to evolve. And we will continue to evolve with them — doing all that we can to ensure that the children are well. “ 8  PAGE ONE

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pastimes, and, of course, rest. But we cannot stop there. The next step is to do the same for our minds. Knowing oneself leads into knowing our true purpose for remaining in education. Recentering our why gives us that immeasurable boost and motivates us to do what is best for every child we are charged to teach. As we reconnect with our body, our mind and our why, we grant ourselves the opportunity to strengthen our personal teaching gifts as we recognize and grow beyond limiting beliefs and practices. Truly knowing yourself is not only the first step in being an effective teacher, it is the most foundational and important one. Know Your Craft In this year of the Olympics, a global audience witnessed the perseverance of exceptional athletes. All waited an indeterminable amount of time to participate — never giving up, never ceasing to challenge themselves to achieve new heights of excellence. We too must persevere — pushing beyond comfort zones in the continual quest for greater expertise. Why? Because the profile of students is ever-changing. Our classrooms are always evolving. As opportunities arise to hone our craft, it is imperative to have a readiness posture — with student needs in mind — and also be intentional in our growth. Attend professional learning that is directly related to your assignment as well as those which are indirectly aligned. Ask yourself: “How are my students better because I am their teacher, or team, or grade, or school, or district? What could I contribute that is innovative? What is an emerging trend that I need to prepare for?” Many teachers leave the profession after the first few years. Those who remain and excel long-term do so through perpetual growth — seeking out whatever is needed to remain relevant, engaging, and continuously delivering first-rate instruction. Know Your Students Within the daily life of our students, there are ongoing uncertainties that produce anxiety, fear, apathy, and so on. These emotions are with our students as they enter our schools and classrooms. But it takes an attentive teacher to minimize these same stressors within the learning envi-

“When lessons increase the opportunities for students to see a reflection of their own culture and a window into another’s as they learn, it is a natural progression of curiosity, engagement, and then on to achievement.” ronment. Intentional teaching can be therapeutic and fun while effortlessly empowering students to take learning risks and experience standard mastery with pride. When lessons increase the opportunities for students to see a reflection of their own culture and a window into another’s as they learn, it is a natural progression of curiosity, engagement, and then on to achievement. The moment a student realizes that the teacher was thinking of them while planning, it is incredible. In that moment, a connection is made, respect is seeded, and a relationship has started. As a result, a teacher can learn more about their students — their personal interests, at-home responsibilities, parental expectations, and future goals. As educators personalize learning for students, it inevitably brings the student, teacher, and school one step closer to winning the achievement battle. I am grateful to be an educator and to partner with each of you as we work to know ourselves, know our craft, know our students, and do all that we can to ensure that the children are well. 

Oatanisha Dawson received her teacher certification from Armstrong Atlantic University in 2004. She holds a Master of Middle Grades Education (2007), a Specialist degree in Leadership (2010), and a Doctor of Education (2013) — all of which were completed at Georgia Southern University. Dawson presently serves as principal of Goodyear Elementary in Brunswick, Georgia.

August/September 2021


A New Law Impacting Georgia’s Teacher Pipeline

Gov. Brian Kemp was joined by legislators and education leaders including PAGE Executive Director Craig Harper at Kennesaw State University on May 4 to sign a slate of education bills passed during the 2021 legislative session. Senate Bill 88, the governor’s teacher pipeline initiative, was the highlight of the bills that were signed.


AGE surveys, Georgia Department of Education reports, and the observation of education stakeholders throughout the state continually demonstrate that teacher pipeline shortages strain Georgia’s public education system. In an effort to address this multifaceted issue, Gov. Brian Kemp proposed Senate Bill 88 (SB 88) during the most recent legislative session.

The bill requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to invite the Georgia Teacher of the Year to serve annually as a non-voting advisory board member. SB 88 also clears a path for U.S. armed forces veterans to become certified teachers by allowing local school districts to employ veterans using a three-year provisional certificate and awarding veterans three years of service on the state teacher salary schedule.

On May 4, 2021, Kemp signed the teacher pipeline enhancement bill, which was sponsored on his behalf by floor leader Sen. Russ Goodman (R-Cogdell). The signing ceremony punctuated SB 88’s progression through the 2021 General Assembly. PAGE supported SB 88 throughout the legislative session. The bill became effective on July 1.

The initiative also requires that local school districts using tiered evaluation systems apply funds saved through reduced evaluation of veteran teachers to the coaching and mentoring of new teachers with three or fewer years of experience and teachers with performance ratings of “Needs Development” or “Ineffective.”


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SB 88 also aims to address teacher preparation in public state colleges and universities by requiring that those programs provide coursework in differentiated instruction and fundamental reading skills. The bill references initiatives with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The creation of these initiatives is designed to increase student enrollment and completion of teacher education programs. The governor’s pipeline initiative also includes retirement legislation. Because the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) bill has a fiscal impact on the defined benefit plan, it is required to undergo a two-year legislative process and will be eligible to pass during the 2022 session. House Bill 385 (HB 385) by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) allows retired educators to return to work full time, following a 12-month waiting period while continuing to draw full TRS benefits. Employment is restricted to high-

needs areas as determined by Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs). Educators should not make retirement decisions based on pending legislation. To learn more about requirements for returning to work following retirement, read the PAGE legal column on page 34 of this issue. PAGE will closely follow HB 385 through the 2022 session and will email updates to all members subscribed to our Capitol Report. If you’ve not yet opted in to receive these reports, you can do so at We also invite you to visit Here you can access information and resources including archived reports and videos, bill analysis, survey data, and more. And, as always, please contact us at any time should you have questions or concerns regarding educationfocused legislation. n

Your PAGE legislative team develops, communicates about, and advocates for policies that support Georgia educators and enable them to thrive professionally. Based on direct member input from the annual presession survey and Legislative Task Force, the team promotes legislation beneficial to Georgia educators and public education while also working to stop harmful bills.

Claire Suggs Senior Education Policy Analyst

Margaret Ciccarelli Director of Legislative Services

Josh Stephens Legislative Affairs Specialist August/September 2021



By Scotty Brewington What are the fundamentals of success for a Georgia educator? We asked teachers throughout the state to share their insights, inspiration, and advice. We spoke with veteran teachers, third-generation teachers, those relatively new to the classroom, and one former business professional who changed careers in order to pursue his passion to teach. In the following pages, you’ll learn what these exceptional educators had to say — what works, what doesn’t, what they wish they’d known at the outset, and what they recommend for longterm success in the profession.

Notes from the Field: Veteran Teachers It’s all about relationships. Get to know your students.


yler Thomas serves as an academic coach and gifted lead at Coosa Middle School in Floyd County. Before taking on his current role this past school year, Thomas was a middle school math and language arts teacher for eight years. In his experience, building relationships with students is absolutely critical to a successful classroom. “The biggest thing is building relationships with the kids,” said Thomas. “If you don’t invest in students outside of the


desk they are sitting in, you are not fulfilling everything you can do as a teacher. There are kids all over the world who are just seen as a student at a desk — when, often, they are experiencing more at their age than many people experience in a lifetime. We have to see each kid as a whole person.” Thomas, who has spent his teaching career in Title I schools, said that relationships are especially important with students who have been raised in challenging and sometimes unsupportive environments. These factors — those outside of a teacher’s control — can be the biggest challenge in educating students, Thomas said.

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of watching his younger siblings each day until his mom returned home from work. These extra responsibilities were why he was often missing homework assignments. With this knowledge, Sara was better able to help him succeed. “I care about each of my students, and I want them to care about me. I want my students to know bits about my personal life outside of the classroom, and likewise, I want a broader picture of my students’ lives to better understand how their home-life experiences affect their learning,” said Wilder, who was Lowndes County’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year and a 2017 finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year. Today, she is a third-grade teacher at Westside Elementary School. “Knowing my students and caring about them in and out of school are the connections that make me a good teacher.”

Build a support network. Teachers need teachers. Collaboration with peers also allows teachers to share and analyze data to identify areas for student growth as well as provide feedback to one another about what instruction methods are working — and not working — in the classroom so that adaptations can be made, said Wilder. When teachers are continually willing to improve their craft by working together, the teaching profession is strengthened, and student performance improves. Tyler Thomas, academic coach and gifted lead at Coosa Middle School in Floyd County, teaches students in Guyana, South America over the summer.

To engage with his students, Thomas makes it a priority to get to know them outside of the classroom. This includes going to their sporting events and band concerts and getting to know their families. “I try to relate to what they are going through,” said Thomas. “They see me as a person — not just a teacher. You have to maintain boundaries but still show that you care about them.” Sara Wilder, who has taught elementary school for 15 years — 10 of them in Lowndes County — agrees. Early in her career, she remembers an eight-year-old student in her class who was the oldest of six children. After getting to know the student, she learned that he was in charge

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“Collaborating and building strong relationships with other teachers is so important,” said Wilder. “I am mentoring a first-year teacher now, and the first thing I did with her — just like I do with my students — is to let her know that it is okay to make mistakes. I had to show her that I needed her as much as she needed me. She is 23 years old and has taught me so much. If I was closed off and thought I knew it all, I would have lost the benefit of her youth and fresh ideas.” In her 29 years of teaching, Carla Cook knows how important it is to support and collaborate with other teachers. “Like they say, teamwork makes the dream work. The question is, do you want to be on an island by yourself or on a cruise ship with others for a year?” said Cook, who teaches kindergarten at Rosemont Elementary in Troup County where she has taught since 1996. “Teachers need other teachers. You need to have a team to bounce things


Sara Wilder, a third-grade teacher at Westside Elementary in Lowndes County, works with a group of students.

kids loved it. It was his engagement strategy for pulling them back in.”

Stay flexible. There is more than one way to reach a child. When it comes to success in the classroom, there isn’t just one “right” way to reach students and teach content. off of and to validate your own thinking. Whether you are a beginning teacher or a veteran, sitting down with your team and making plans is incredibly important.” One of the strategies Cook is known for is her creative “callbacks” that help her engage with students. For example, when a student does something exceptional in class, Cook will call out, “Mic Drop!” Students then hold out their hands and “drop” the invisible mic in celebration. Or, when she needs quiet in the room, Cook calls out, “Click-click,” to which students reply in unison “Click-click” as they “turn their volume off ” and stop talking.

“Teachers must be flexible in order to teach to a multitude of cultures, learning styles, and levels of skill because it is impossible to say matter-of-factly that one particular way of teaching is most effective,” said Wilder. “I make a significant effort to get to know my students’ needs and the ways in which they learn so I can shape and reshape my classroom based on these strengths and weaknesses and adapt my curriculum accordingly. There is no one way to teach. We have to keep recreating our craft.”

Over the years, teachers she mentored have adopted callbacks in their own classrooms.

In her classroom, Cook administers some basic assessments at the beginning of the school year to see where her students are academically and then places them in groups based on the data. The key, she said, is to allow those groups to be fluid and flexible so students have the opportunity to grow and evolve.

“I once had a young student teacher who was really struggling. We had a lot of sit-downs. Then he came up with a few callbacks of his own,” said Cook. His unique callback, an homage to professional wrestling legend Ric Flair, was “two claps and a ‘Wooo!’” Cook explained. “The

She remembers one student who struggled at the beginning of the year and was placed in one of the lower-level groups for reading instruction. But as the year progressed, Cook saw that he was cognitively improving and could continue to increase his ability to read on a higher level if


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Cook. “You have to teach a child on their level but be fluid and flexible and allow them to move. The easy thing to do is to leave them where they are, but you’re not doing the best for the child.”

Be a good listener. Sometimes it’s all you can do. For Miguel Gonzales, an English teacher in the Newcomer Academy at Morris Innovative High School in Dalton Public Schools, teaching is deeply personal. Gonzales’ students are middle and high school students who are new to the country and learning English as a second language. Gonzales himself came to live in the United States in the third grade when he was only eight years old. He remembers having teachers who took him under their wing and helped him succeed. It was those teachers who made him want to become a teacher himself.

Carla Cook, a kindergarten teacher at Rosemont Elementary in Troup County, teaching in-person and virtually.

he were moved to another group. She moved the student and, by the end of the school year, he had qualified for the gifted program. “If I had not given him the chance to grow, he would have stayed on the same level and never evolved, said August/September 2021

“I am of the first generation of college students in my family, and it took a lot of teachers helping me navigate that tricky road of graduating high school and beyond,” Gonzales said. “I model my teaching that way as well. I always say that teaching is my career, but I care about you as a person more than anything.” Part of teaching students who are new to the country and new English speakers is listening and helping them understand that they are in a safe place with people who are invested in their success. This includes getting to know them and understanding what they are dealing with outside of the classroom. PAGE ONE  15

outside of the classroom — then I have to be a good listener and let that be enough,” said Gonzales. “I struggle with that — accepting and listening may be all I can do in certain cases. What they are going through in their personal lives definitely affects them in the classroom and affects you as a teacher. That’s the hardest part.”

What’s the best part of your job? Despite all of the challenges, the best part of teaching is the kids and the laughter, said Wilder. Miguel Gonzales teaches English to students at Newcomer Academy in Dalton Public Schools.

Gonzales remembers his own seventh grade health and P.E. teacher at Dalton Middle School, Carol Satterfield, who had a profound impact on his life and made him want to become a teacher. Satterfield took a special interest in Gonzales and his older brother, even helping him register for college and attending orientation with him. “If I can help my students with those outside factors, I do. But if it’s something that I can’t help them with — an issue

“The best part of my job is that I get to laugh every single day. I absolutely love and adore children, and I sincerely enjoy my time with them,” she said. “Like they say, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” “Laughing with kids, building those relationships, and seeing them outside of school and laughing with them — that’s the best part,” said Thomas. “That is what they will remember. You may be a great teacher of math content, but they will remember the laughter.”

April Trussell teaches students U.S. history at Lee County High School. 16  PAGE ONE

For Cook, the best part of teaching is when she runs into former students who are now adults but still remember her classroom and what they learned from her in kindergarten. “Every year, I usually have a senior or two who ask me to come back and be honored as their Senior Spotlight Teacher. To have taught them in kindergarten and to have them recognize me as their most influential teacher — it’s the best,” said Cook. “To know that they still remember you and have vivid memories of things you said and did that impacted them — there is nothing better. It’s my life. It’s why I do it.” n

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Top Recommendations from Veteran Teachers “You have to build relationships with students, but you have to have a good working relationship with parents as well. It has to be a team effort where the child sees the teacher and parents working together for their benefit. You also have to build your tribe. Find a group of people you trust to share your challenges and successes. Take it one day at a time. No matter how many veteran teachers you work with, they were all first-year teachers, too. We have all been there.” — Lea Mitchell, first-grade teacher, Springdale Elementary School, Bibb County (15-year teaching veteran)

“Be willing to try new things and be flexible. Let the kids have the spotlight. It’s not about us — it’s about the kids. Right off the bat, start developing relationships with your students. That is the key to everything. Build relationships and form solid routines. You can’t do the same thing every year or even the same thing for every child. You have to figure out what works.” — Nancy Nelson, fourth-grade teacher, Jack P. Nix Elementary School, White County (27-year teaching veteran)

“Time management — you have to learn how to make time for yourself. It’s so easy for us to be consumed with all that we have to do for our students that we sometimes tend to put them before ourselves. Then, you find yourself in a spiral, and you can become overwhelmed very quickly. It’s important to know who your support group or support person is and that you can go to them anytime. It’s a friendship. We’re not just colleagues — we’re friends.” — Emma Fettes, Honors Chemistry and AP Environmental Science, Richmond Hill High School, Bryan County Schools (11-year teaching veteran)

“Having a support network of other teachers is a critical lifeline for new teachers. You have to have someone you feel confident in sharing your successes and struggles. You also have to know when to ask for help. Having that support is a tremendous asset for veteran teachers, too. Teaching is so hard — there’s so much that goes into it. You need someone who can listen no matter how long you have been teaching.” — Brandy Sipling, second-grade teacher, Midland Academy, Muscogee County School District (21-year teaching veteran)

“Have fun. Don’t take everything so seriously. Teaching is a hard job. It’s stressful and it’s important, but if you are not enjoying what you are doing and having fun, you will never be successful. It will be life-draining if you don’t enjoy it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do what’s best for your kids and the rest will fall into place.” — Tyler Thomas, Academic Coach and Gifted Lead, Coosa Middle School, Floyd County (Nine-year teaching veteran)

“Truly get to know your students because if you don’t — if they don’t believe that you understand them and want the best for them — you won’t be able to teach them anything. Once you have trust, then you can get down to the standards and actually teach the content.” — Miguel Gonzales, MS/HS English, Newcomer Academy, Morris Innovative High School, Dalton Public Schools (Eight-year teaching veteran)

“Everyone wants to be listened to and have their voice heard. Students need a supporter — a listener. As teachers, sometimes we assume we need to do all of the talking, but we need to really listen to their concerns. Any time a student has an opportunity to voice concerns and you listen, it makes a profound impact.” — April Trussell, 11th-grade US History and AP US History, Lee County High School, Lee County (21year teaching veteran)

August/September 2021


Earn your Graduate Degree in Education from Georgia College Our online graduate programs give you the ability to further your education from wherever you may be. You’ll receive a high-quality, affordable, and accredited program that will allow you to maintain your work and home life while pursuing your degree. We offer online programs in: • Educational Leadership (Ed.S. and M.Ed.)* • Special Education (M.A.T., M.Ed. and Ed.S.) • Teacher Leadership (Ed.S.) • Certification Programs • Curriculum and Instruction (M.Ed.) Library Media Certification Dyslexia Certification • Instructional Technology (M.Ed.) Instructional Technology Certification • Early Childhood Education (M.Ed.) Educational Leadership Tier I • Library Media (M.Ed.) Positive Behavior Interventions and • Middle Grades Education (M.A.T. and M.Ed.) Supports (PBIS) Certification Computer Science for Teacher Certification • Secondary Education (M.A.T.) *For those who hold clear and renewable Leadership/Tier II certification at the master’s degree level, we offer the Specialist in Leadership degree only.

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Notes from the Field: Newer Teachers An Unusual First Year


his past school year was Tonishia Davenport’s third year teaching, but her first year teaching fifth grade. Before the 2020-21 school year, she taught second grade for two years. “I was ready for anything the entire year. There were so many changes that happened,” said Davenport, who teaches at Austin Road Elementary in Henry County. “Nothing was set in stone.” In Henry County, it was up to parents when their children returned to in-person learning. As a result, Davenport had to adjust her classroom on an ongoing basis to accommodate students. “When everyone was virtual, I could do what I had done in previous years and sort students based on their personalities, relationships, and data. But this year, I had to also consider where they were sitting in the classroom,” she said. “I had to really think about who they were sitting with, who had health challenges, who needs to sit by the board so they can see — or when a new student came in, adding a desk, reconsidering the spacing between desks, etc.”

teaches ninth and 10th English, serves as an assistant coach for both varsity and middle school football, and is the ninth grade head baseball coach — had the advantage of having graduated from Walnut Grove not that long ago. “I probably have a dozen or so faculty members who taught me and know me from high school, a few assistant principals who remember me, and also several friends around my age who teach here,” said Yancey, who is the first high school graduate of the school to come back and teach. “I feel comfortable around these people. It’s a little weird to call them by their first names, but they have known me for 10 years, so that has been really helpful.” The first year on the job during a typical school year would be challenging enough, but the 2020-21 school year brought a whole new set of unique challenges. Fortunately for Yancey, all of his students were face-to-face this year, so he did not have to split his time between in-person and virtual students. But the year was not without its challenges. “In some ways, it was a blessing in the sense that I didn’t feel like I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on. Even veteran teachers had to adjust to a completely new

These changes made classroom management even more challenging, said Davenport. “The most challenging thing is making sure that every student is getting me in a way that they need me. Differentiating in so many ways and then balancing that out day-to-day with the reading and math is difficult — especially when you are teaching all five subjects to students,” she said. For Mason Yancey, a firstyear teacher at Walnut Grove High School in Walton County, getting comfortable in the classroom this past school year took some time despite the many familiar faces greeting him in the hallways. Yancey — who August/September 2021

Tonishia Davenport with her class on a field trip observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. PAGE ONE  19

Anubha Singh (center), an honors biology teacher at Cambridge High School in Milton, works with students in a blood-typing lab. Students were given unknown blood types belonging to four different fictitious people and had to determine who had which blood type (A, B, AB or O).

year. But it was also hard because this year came with a bunch of new and different things that might not carry into the future,” said Yancey. “There may be some things I will have to adjust or learn to do differently.” Anubha Singh, an honors biology teacher at Cambridge High School in Fulton County, can relate. Singh made the transition from tutoring and teaching at a community college to teaching high school honors biology two and a half years ago. The 2020-21 school year began completely virtual, and by the end of the year, Singh was simultaneously teaching 70 percent of students face-to-face and the other 30 percent virtually “I remember veteran colleagues, teachers who have taught for 20-25 years, telling me, ‘This is new for us as well. We’re all in this together. This is unchartered waters for everyone — we will learn as we go.’ That made me feel better,” said Singh.

The First Year: Biggest Challenges For Singh, who was hired mid-year with no background in teaching high schoolers, classroom management was a big challenge. “To say that first month was challenging would be a huge understatement. I was confident about the content I had to 20  PAGE ONE

teach but clueless about how to do it. I had absolutely zero experience in classroom management,” said Singh. “But that challenge pales in comparison to the challenge of learning how to be an effective virtual teacher as school opened remotely in August 2020. Once again, I was confident in the content and, this time, even confident about my improved classroom management skills but was very unsure about being an effective teacher in a virtual setting.”

For Hannah Walker, a first-year teacher at Fitzgerald High School College & Career Academy in Ben Hill County, transitioning from a paraprofessional to a lead teacher had its own set of challenges. “Learning to manage a caseload and virtual learning and in-person learning all at the same time — while making sure kids are getting what they need online, making sure they are coming to school, and then tracking them down and making sure they get what they need — finding new ways to manage all of that, all in one day, has been challenging,” said Walker. Walker served as a parapro at Fitzgerald College & Career Academy and transitioned to a lead teacher in January of 2021 during the second half of the school year. She teaches special education students in grades nine through 12 and serves as a co-teacher in history. “Being a parapro, you have responsibilities, but you don’t do a whole list of things. You are there to assist the student and once you leave, your job is done,” Walker said. “But as a teacher, there is always someone who needs something, always grades to put in — it’s hard to manage that workload.” Leontyne Harris, a new kindergarten teacher at BurdellHunt Magnet School in Bibb County, transitioned to a lead teacher during the 2020-21 school year after serving eight years as a kindergarten parapro at another elementary school in Macon. For Harris, the biggest challenge has been August/September 2021

establishing classroom rituals and routines. “The relationship I formed with my lead teacher helped me transition to my current position. I am very fortunate to work with a very supportive group of experienced teachers who have taken me under their wings and guided me through the first year,” said Harris. Harris also attends a monthly teacher support committee meeting in Bibb County. Fellow kindergarten teachers also meet together monthly at her school to talk about lessons and classroom strategies.

Hannah Wilson Walker with her first class as a parapro at Fitzgerald College and Career Academy in Ben Hill County.

“My kindergarten team has been instrumental in helping me along, sending texts and emails and I also have a wonderful and supportive parapro who has been there for years. She

the additional planning and analyses required to meet the needs of students of varying abilities. “The teaching part was the fun part, but the whole system of inputting data was new to me,” said Harris. “But now that I have done those things, it will be easier, and I will be on top of it next year.”

Mentors Make a Big Difference “I have had two great mentors who dropped what they were doing to help me anytime I needed help,” said Walker. “It’s great to have mentors you can rely on that you can text after work and say, ‘I need help.’” For Harris, working as a parapro for eight years before becoming a lead teacher provided valuable firsthand experience and a familiarity with August/September 2021

Leontyne Harris, a first-year kindergarten teacher at Burdell-Hunt Magnet School in Macon.


Cody Lamanac (back: fourth from left) with his 7th-grade math class at Teasley Middle School in Cherokee County.

helped me with so many day-to-day and routine things,” said Harris. Gina Barber, a third-year preschool teacher at Hand-InHand Primary School in Thomas County, has 22 students in her class with the help of a support teacher. Her school utilizes an unusual grade configuration with approximately 725 total students — all in preschool and kindergarten — and 13 classes of Pre-K.

“Children have such inquisitive minds and when they ask questions, it opens up so many conversations. When you allow your students to speak and express their thoughts and opinions, it adds so much to a class lesson,” said Harris. “I think it will be 10 years down the road when I can do things

“Our school is unique because we are exclusively Pre-K and kindergarten. There are 12 other Pre-K teachers I work with and am able to collaborate with each day,” said Barber. “I had a mentor teacher my first year — my neighbor teacher — so she has been my mentor for the past three years. I can bounce ideas off of her. It’s helpful to have veteran teachers near you because they can say, ‘It might work better this way.’”

What is your secret to success? “You need to make a connection with the students and build some kind of personal rapport with them. Make them feel comfortable in the classroom where they are and not afraid to share their opinions or make a mistake,” said Singh. “I always tell my students, ‘If you knew everything, you wouldn’t be in my classroom.’ We are always here to learn and learn together.”


Anubha Singh, an honors biology teacher at Cambridge High School in Milton, teaches students the process of DNA replication.

August/September 2021

lingering effects of the accident and years of crippling migraines, Lamanac struggled in school and fell behind academically. While still in grade school, Lamanac saw a specialist who conducted a psychological evaluation and determined that his mathematical computation skills were weak and that he would be lucky to graduate high school. “My parents never told me that. I didn’t learn about what the evaluation said until I was a freshman in college,” Lamanac said. “I went through school just thinking everything was harder for me and that I just had to work harder. Throughout all of that, I had some amazing teachers who pushed me.” In high school, Lamanac said, math finally “clicked” for him. A straight “A” student, he started Gina Barber, a third-year teacher at Hand-In-Hand in Thomas County, works helping fellow students who were with a small group of preschoolers creating bubble process art. struggling in math class. By senior year, he knew he wanted to be a math teacher. Lamanac went on to graduate high school with honwith my eyes closed, but right now, my eyes are wide open. ors and earned an undergrad in secondary math education When you listen with an open heart to your students, that from Reinhardt University where he graduated summa makes a successful teacher because you can always learn cum laude. from them and they can always learn from you.” “I began to succeed in math because of the amazing For Singh, her favorite part of teaching is when she sees teachers I had. I knew I wanted to be able to give back to students’ eyes light up when they finally grasp a difficult the community and school system that helped my family concept. and me,” said Lamanac, who teaches seventh grade math at Teasley Middle School in Cherokee County. Lamanac also “We have an experiment where we take a drop of water attended school in Cherokee. “I also knew I wanted to be and look at it under a microscope. When they see that drop there for students who have been told they can’t. I wanted of water teeming with so much life, that look on their faces, to be there to say they can and they will if they put in the that’s what keeps me going. It’s my favorite part of being a effort.” biology teacher,” said Singh. “I consider myself a lifelong learner. It’s important to stay curious, and I tell my students For Lamanac, who now has two years of teaching behind to do that as well.” him, his biggest piece of advice to new teachers is simple: Be yourself and roll with it.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

When Cody Lamanac was in the first grade, he was in a serious car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury, double vision, and a visible eye deformation. Because of the August/September 2021

“There are going to be days that are terrible and days that are out of this world,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to be you. Take the good, the bad, and the ugly — take it all together for what it’s worth.” n PAGE ONE  23


Top Recommendations from New Teachers “Don’t sit there until 5 p.m. every day. Sometimes, you have to go home. You can grade those papers later. Things can wait — even when you don’t think they can. A teacher next door to me who acted as a mentor this year told me once that you have to remember to give yourself grace. Realize that everything isn’t going to be perfect. You have to be willing to let go and breathe for a moment.” — Mason Yancey, ninth & 10th-grade English, Walnut Grove High School, Walton County

“Build relationships with your team but also build relationships with different educators in different areas. They can help you when you need help. They all have input. I have had teachers in grades above me and below me share information on where students may be in their learning — their challenges and positive things from the previous year. That was really beneficial.” — Tonishia Davenport, fifth-grade Social Studies and Science, Austin Road Elementary School, Henry County

“You can be successful if you are willing to learn new things and not be set in your ways. I only have three years of experience, but COVID or not, I would do things differently in my third year than my first year. Kids change; lesson plans change. It’s important to be flexible and change things up.” — Gina Barber, Pre-K, Hand-In-Hand Primary School, Thomas County

“Nothing is going to go according to plan. Sometimes your lesson plans get thrown out the window. You have to roll with it. Learn to be adaptable. Find good people to surround yourself with who can help. Don’t be ashamed to ask questions. Everyone has to start somewhere, and nobody knows everything.” — Hannah Walker, Fitzgerald High School College & Career Academy, Ben Hill County

“Never stop asking questions. As a new teacher, I felt like a kindergarten student. I knew some things, but I knew I had a lot to learn. Like I tell my students — ask because if I can’t answer it, maybe one of your classmates can. Even if it sounds crazy to you, it’s a good question.”

“Don’t be shy to ask for help. I was constantly popping into colleagues’ classrooms during planning and lunch periods — always asking for help with classroom management, how to manage my time with grading — there was a constant barrage of questions I would throw at them. I couldn’t have survived the first 90 days without their support. Lean on your colleagues. Don’t be shy. People are ready to help if you ask for it.” — Anubha Singh, Honors Biology, Cambridge High School, Fulton County

— Leontyne Harris, Kindergarten, Burdell-Hunt Magnet School, Bibb County

“Be willing to put yourself in their shoes but also make them feel like they have a voice. A child doesn’t want to be talked down to — especially in middle school. When I look at a kid, I say, ‘You say you can’t, but I know you can. You are capable.’ My biggest thing is being an encourager — pushing all the time and being the cheerleader for those kids who really need it. There are days you want a lot for them, but at the end of the day, you encourage them as much as you can in hopes that they will want it for themselves.” — Cody Lamanac, seventh-grade math, Teasley Middle School, Cherokee County


August/September 2021

Help us change the face of education The nationwide Call Me MiSTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) program focuses on recruiting men of color (primarily Black males) to teach in K-12 schools. Georgia College established the state’s first-ever Call Me MiSTER cohort in 2015 and is looking for the next group of trailblazers in education!

Call Me MiSTER students will benefit from: • Financial assistance through tuition assistance, stipends for books/meals/housing, and/or loan forgiveness • An academic support system • A cohort model for social and cultural support within the College of Education and through activities specific to Call Me MiSTER • Multifaceted mentorship • Immediate exposure to classroom training opportunities • Support and preparation for the GACE Program Admission Assessment • Assistance with job placement Undergraduate MiSTERs are strongly preferred to major in early childhood, special education, or middle grades education. However, applicants may choose alternate pathways towards attaining a teaching certification, such as math with a teaching concentration. Graduate students pursuing careers in K-12 teaching are also encouraged to apply and are considered on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, visit

Third Generation Teachers:

It’s a Family Tradition A

first-year teacher who teaches third grade at Red Bud Elementary School in Gordon County, Calli Davis is the daughter of two teachers. Her mom, 29-year teaching veteran Lynn Davis, taught elementary school for 12 years and is now a teaching as a profession instructor at Calhoun High School. Her dad, Michael, is a P.E. teacher and football coach at Rabun County High School. Davis’ grandfather, Ray Lamb, retired from teaching in 1989 after teaching and coaching football for more than 30 years. She also has an uncle and three aunts who are all distinguished coaches and teachers. Davis had the unique experience of having both parents as teachers while in high school. She took teaching courses from her mom, who was also her tennis coach, and her dad was her

Calli Davis (center), a third-grade teacher at Red Bud Elementary School in Gordon County with her mother, Lynn Davis, and grandfather, Ray Lamb. Lynn, a 29-year teaching veteran, is the Teaching as a Profession instructor at Calhoun High School. Lamb retired in 1989 after teaching for over 30 years.

weight training coach during her time on the basketball and tennis teams.

you will get out of those kids. That has really helped me in the classroom.”

“Maybe it was the teacher’s kid in me, but I always loved building relationships with my teachers,” said Davis. “Growing up with my grandfather and parents, they were always big on relationships, which had a big impact on me wanting to be a teacher.”

Davis said her mom is her main sounding board when she needs teaching advice.

The profound impact her parents and grandfather had on their former students is something Davis has witnessed firsthand all of her life.

Davis welcomes students back to the classroom.


“I’ve seen kids and adults come up to my grandfather, who is now in his late 80s, and say what an impact he had on them and the same happens with my mom and dad,” said Davis. “They have always said that you have to let kids know you care. The more you build those relationships, the more

“I definitely ask my mom for a lot of advice,” said Davis. “I talk to her every day, and she shares strategies to help with all kinds of things.” For Lynn, having her daughter follow in her footsteps was welcome news. “I was thrilled. She’s teaching third grade, which is what I taught,” said Davis. “Teaching is tough and teaching in a pandemic is really tough but the rewards outweigh the negative. I told her one of the biggest things is to be flexible. A lot of the time, everything gets pulled out from under you. You have to be flexible and go with the flow.” August/September 2021


tella Ellenwood is a third-generation math teacher. Today, both Stella and her mom, Jan Oliver, teach math at Tattnall County High School in Reidsville. This past school year was Stella’s first teaching. It was her mom’s 32nd. Stella’s grandmother, Jayne Bennett, also taught math for 28 years before retiring in 1999. Both Stella and her mom teach Algebra II? though Ellenwood says they have very different teaching styles. Ellenwood learned how tough her mom was as a teacher when she was as a student in her mom’s class her freshman and senior years of high school. “My Mom has a reputation before people get to her class of being very hard,” said Ellenwood. “But then, in college, I had so many friends call and say, ‘Stella, if it weren’t for Mrs. Jan, I wouldn’t have been able to pass algebra or calculus.’” Ellenwood says she remembers her mom always providing real-world math lessons when she was young — quizzing her in the car on multiplication tables or asking her to calculate how much she would save when an item was 25 percent off in the store.

Three generations of math teachers: Jayne Bennett (retired), Stella Ellenwood and Jan Oliver.

doing in class, how she was doing, and how it affected her at home,” Oliver said. “To mentor her now has been the same type of experience. There’s so

“I constantly solved the math around me and felt confident because I practiced it all of the time,” said Ellenwood. “I saw it as useful.” For Oliver, having her daughter in class also taught her a lot about her own performance. “It helped me a lot at the time because I got to see both sides of the coin — how I was August/September 2021

Ellenwood teaches Algebra 2 at Tattnall County High School during her first year as a teacher.

much I had forgotten about what happens to a new teacher.” Ellenwood tries to model what she learned from her mom — teaching students practical, dayto-day applications of the math they learn in class. She also hopes to impact her students the way her mom has impacted students over the years. “As often as I can, I try to give real-world examples. I try to make it relevant to them,” said Ellenwood. “Even now as a teacher, I have students come up to me and say — your mom is a very good teacher. I would love to get to the point where students say, ‘Mrs. Ellenwood is a really good teacher.’” n PAGE ONE  27

From the Banking Business to the Life-Changing Business specialist degree in curriculum and instruction and has since worked at four different schools. He has been a special education teacher for the past 11 years. Five years ago, he joined the faculty at Cherokee High School, where he coaches football and girl’s golf. Law said that, for him, the best part of teaching is when he sees a student overcome an obstacle and succeed against the odds.

Jeremy Law, a special education teacher and football coach at Cherokee High School, coaches a player on the sideline.


eremy Law didn’t always know he wanted to teach. His long road to the classroom began with a degree in business and 13 years in the banking industry. “I had long felt a strong calling to teach because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people and also have the opportunity to coach,” said Law. “My wife finally said — ‘I’m tired of hearing you talk about it. Let’s make it work so you can do what you feel called to do.’” At the time Law wanted to enter education, there was no shortage of teachers in Cherokee County. But the lack of job openings — coupled with the fact that he didn’t have an education degree — didn’t deter him. A graduate of Etowah High School, Law eventually earned his master’s degree in special education and a


“To see lives changed because someone really believed in them and to see kids become citizens in the community, that makes you proud,” said Law. “That’s what I aim for each day.” Law’s top teaching recommendation? Teach to the heart over teaching to the subject.

“When I make a kid’s heart and soul my focal point, the subject matter comes naturally,” said Law. “Once they know I care for them and am concerned for their wellbeing, then they will listen to me. But if I do it the other way and just focus on my content, the likelihood of them listening to me will be frustrating for them and for me as a teacher.” Coach Law has received many awards during his career including Cherokee County School District’s Teacher of the Year in 2016. He also received the 2021 Teacher Hero Award from Grace Ed Technologies. “We can give a kid an education, but it will only get them so far,” said Law. “However, we can give a kid hope and it will last a lifetime.” n

August/September 2021

Head of the Class 2022 Teacher of the Year & Finalists

Congratulations to PAGE member Cherie Bonder Dennis, Georgia’s Teacher of the Year for 2022. Like all Georgia educators, Cherie and each program finalist have gone above and beyond this past year. Below, in their own words, these rock star teachers provide insight into what they love about being an educator and how they would best advocate for Georgia’s students.

2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year “When our society invests in public education, and I do not just mean financially, the rewards are exponential not only for the individual children in the classroom, but also for our greater society that directly benefits from those children having been educated. Believe in public education because its potential is your potential. Believe in its ability to provide children a safe place to find their footing when their world outside of the school walls may be crumbling in ways that we personally cannot imagine.” Cherie Dennis — Savannah-Chatham County Public School System

“Student-teacher relationships can have many long-term effects on your classroom as it can help students to develop a more positive self-image, improve interactions with peers, and provide a sense of purpose while developing their persistence and empathy. The most beautiful part of all of this is that over time students begin to know and can manage themselves while also making sound choices about personal and social decisions.”

Natasha Berry — Valdosta City Schools

August/September 2021


“I believe that we are on the cusp of something great in education! My mission in life is to help students and teachers reach their highest potential and then “pay it forward” for someone else. When students have a sense of belonging, they are able to tap into their creativity. When students are comfortable with what they don’t know and have a growth mindset, they are better able to explore areas that they are good at and, ultimately, showcase their talents.”

Tewanna Brown — Carroll County School System

“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others. Our lessons should not only be engaging for the students, but for ourselves. If you are new to teaching, chances are you may already have a feeling of empowerment. Simply being hired has empowered you to feel confident about making a positive change in your classroom. If you are an experienced teacher, I invite you to revisit your younger self and reclaim the enthusiasm and joy you first brought to teaching. It’s still there.”

Nikki Hampton — Gordon County Schools

“Developing empathy for our learners can promote positive behaviors within our classroom and increase academic engagement. If our students understand that they can achieve greatness, they are more likely to strive for greatness. Remember, true learning can only happen as a result of change, and that change must first start with educators. Once that change occurs within us, it will slowly trickle down to all stakeholders in education, resulting in a stronger and more unified education system across the nation.”

Shanika Freeman — Griffin-Spalding County School System

“There’s power in unifying our diversity. I am anchored in my purpose — my ‘why’— to always invest in others, truly see others, and help others be successful, just as so many have done for me. So, my message to Georgia’s teachers is that each of you are worth being someone’s ‘why.’ It is so important to define your own ‘why’ so that your unique story and gifts may unite with my gifts and those of everyone in our noble profession— for the good of each educator and student who carries promise and purpose yet to be realized.”

Rebecca Carlisle — Gwinnett County Public Schools


August/September 2021

“When we love first and teach second, we provide students with an academic environment where they can thrive and reach their true potential. As educators of future world leaders, we need to remember that moments we are the most uncomfortable are the moments we grow the most. I want to encourage educators to step out of the comfort of their four walls and discover what lies beyond them! When we teach, we need to make every effort to ensure our children feel loved, accepted, appreciated and that their interests matter.”

Matthew Taylor — Laurens County Schools

“Every student is unique. Every student has strengths. Every student has goals that can be achieved by having someone who believes that they are capable, no matter what a test score says or what a diagnosis may predetermine. As educators, it is our job to find the strengths that are within our students and to encourage, to nurture, and to give them the opportunity to share their gifts with the world.”

Maggie Pruitt — Buford City Schools

“Successful teachers will produce more successful students — our overall longterm goal. I did not choose to major in education in college. However, after a few years in another position and later at home raising a family, I realized that teaching young children was exactly the career that I wanted to pursue. I stand as an example that true success can be found in teaching; and one’s preparation can come later rather than earlier. It would also be my pleasure to continue modeling for and supporting those in middle and high school who are considering education as a career. ”

Jennifer Smith — Twiggs County Public Schools

“The future of our public schools relies on our willingness to evolve and adjust to the needs of our diverse student population. We must create equitable learning environments for all students and allow teachers to use their strengths in the classroom that will best encourage and empower their students. We do not have to do away with the traditional classroom with lectures and discussions, but we do need to make sure that we are placing our students and teachers in classrooms that benefit everyone.”

Michelle Mickens — Wilkes County Schools

August/September 2021


Identify. Prepare. Recruit. Retain. Supporting Georgia’s Teacher Pipeline Georgia’s teacher shortage is real — very real — and it has been for some time. As detailed in the article on page 10, Gov. Brian Kemp signed new teacher pipeline legislation into law this year. Yet, there is much more that must be done — including PAGE initiatives in support of present and future teachers. Throughout the continuum, from middle school through college and beyond, PAGE works to identify, recruit, prepare, and retain Georgia educators. Middle & High School • PAGE Future Georgia Educators (FGE) is a secondary school teacher recruitment program. Teachers who serve as FGE advisors identify and recruit young people who may be interested in pursuing a career in teaching. • FGE also serves as a co-curricular organization to enrich the curriculum of education pathway classes. 32  PAGE ONE

Currently, Georgia offers two such pathways: Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and Teaching as a Profession (TAP). PAGE has met with state and local agencies and district administrators to advocate for an increase in the number of education pathways offered, particularly TAP, in an effort to increase the number of young people entering the profession.

college fair where students can visit with recruiters not only from the host college but other colleges as well. Visit for upcoming dates and locations.

• PAGE provides speakers to education pathway classes on subjects such as the pathway to certification, current events in education, and ethics.

• Because education pathway students have field experiences similar to college education majors, PAGE provides a very affordable $5 per year student membership – complete with legal/liability coverage.

• Our flagship teacher recruitment initiative is FGE Day. PAGE partners with Georgia colleges of education to host annual events designed around professional learning, networking, and college visitation for high school students who may be considering a career in education. Each conference features motivational speakers, workshops, quiz-bowl competitions, and a

• Since its inception in 2015, nearly 8,000 high school students have participated in FGE Days, with an average attendance of 200 at each event.

• High school seniors planning to pursue careers in education are eligible for PAGE FGE scholarships. To date, PAGE has awarded $8,000 in FGE scholarship funds for high school seniors. Learn more and apply at August/September 2021


From middle school through college and beyond, PAGE works to identify, recruit, prepare, and retain Georgia educators.


• PAGE provides education majors with a college student membership at just $15 per year – inclusive of legal/liability coverage. [The PAGE legal department has noted a significant increase in the number of calls from college students since the Georgia Professional Standards Commission began issuing pre-service certificates in 2015, holding these students accountable under the Code of Ethics for Educators.] • College student membership also includes eligibility for PAGE teacher candidate scholarships to help finance an education degree. To date, PAGE has awarded more than $100,000 to college-level teacher candidate members. Learn more and apply at https:// • PAGE presents learning modules on topics such as resume writing and interview skills, code of ethics training, and a “nuts and bolts” look at the first year as a teacher with details about salary, benefits, cafeteria plans, and more. These modules are designed to prepare students so they are not overwhelmed when they get their own classrooms.

• Our Professional Learning department offers training on designing engaging work for students, and provides leadership support for assistant principals and principals. Learn more at • For those pursuing advanced degrees, PAGE offers scholarships to offset that cost. To date, PAGE has awarded nearly $200,000 in scholarship funds for this purpose. Learn more and apply at In this issue, Georgia educators offer words of advice and encouragement. There are so many demands that factor into classroom success: volumes of paperwork, seemingly endless changes in legislation and policy, challenging students, difficult parents, and so much more. All are real – but so is the magic. Make those

connections with your students, celebrate each small victory, and support and be supported by your colleagues. Remember why you chose to be in the classroom, and be a living advertisement for the profession that makes all others possible. 

Beyond College • First-year teachers who have been PAGE members in college (or as a paraprofessional), receive their first year of professional membership with comprehensive PAGE benefits at halfprice. • PAGE posts job fair opportunities on our website and social media to help teachers as they seek employment. Learn more at https://www. August/September 2021

Mary Ruth Ray is a PAGE FGE Coordinator and College Services Representative. A former Georgia educator, she has served PAGE members since 1998.



Returning to Work Following Retirement

PAGE attorneys frequently answer questions from retirees who want to return to work. The following information is a brief overview of the current status of Georgia’s return-to-work law for retired teachers as well as a discussion of pending legislation that may impact return to work in the future. Under current Georgia law, retired educators are eligible to return to the classroom and collect benefits from the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia (TRS) as long as they work no more than 49 percent of the time. Educators wishing to work a schedule of 50 percent or more must either suspend or terminate their TRS retirement benefits. Returning to Work – 49 Percent or Less In order to work as a regular 49-percent employee after retirement, you must have a one-month break in service. The salary for the position you choose is negotiated be34  PAGE ONE

tween you and the employing district but cannot exceed more than 49 percent of the standard pay for that position. If a retiree is employed by a district as an independent contractor or while working for any organization doing business with an employer covered by TRS, documentation of duties, responsibilities, and salary must be submitted to TRS. There is a very limited exception allowing retirees to return to work full time for three months in a temporary position. Returning to work with a TRS-covered entity, in any capacity, needs to be approved by TRS. Working 50 Percent or More Should a retiree choose to return to work 50 percent or more of a school year, they must decide whether to suspend or terminate their benefits. When a retiree suspends their TRS benefits, no contributions are made to TRS from the retired member or employer, and the retired member does not accrue more service time. When a retired August/September 2021

member terminates their TRS benefits to return to work, member and employer contributions are made to TRS. Once a member terminates their retirement and returns to work, the member continues to accrue service credit towards retirement. To terminate your retirement benefit, you must work a minimum of four months. If you plan to return to work in a capacity greater than 49 percent after retirement, you should contact TRS to determine whether suspension or termination of benefits is the best option for you. No Prior Agreement As you prepare to retire, and simultaneously consider returning to work in a limited capacity, you must remember it is illegal to have an agreement to return to work in place at the time of retirement. Should TRS discover that an agreement to return to work existed prior to retirement, the retirement will be voided, the retiree will have to go through the retirement process again at a later date, and any funds paid by TRS to the retiree will have to be returned. When your retirement is processed, you sign a form acknowledging that no written or verbal agreement to return to work exists. Knowingly giving false information to the retirement system is a misdemeanor as well as a potential violation of the Code of Ethics for Georgia Educators. Notification Before accepting any post-retirement job with a school district, it is the retiree’s responsibility to notify any potential employing school district that you are a TRS beneficiary. Retirees who choose to return to work, in any capacity with a school or school district, need to have the position approved by TRS before starting the job. August/September 2021

Contact Information Visit for additional details. You may reach TRS at 1-800-352-0650. As always, should you have any questions about this or any other work-related issues, please call the PAGE legal department at 770-2168555 (option 1) or send an email to Pending Legislation to Watch As this article is being written, HB 385 (https://bit. ly/2V8apji) is being sent to the state auditor for actuarial study. Pending review, this bill is eligible for a vote in the 2022 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly. If passed, HB 385 will allow retirees to work full time while continuing to receive retirement benefits. This proposed legislation would require a 12-month break in service and limits employment to high-needs areas as determined by the local RESA. Educators should not make retirement decisions based on pending legislation, but HB 385 will be an important bill to watch in the upcoming session. PAGE lobbyists will follow the legislation closely and send information to all members who’ve subscribed to the PAGE Capitol Report. If you’ve not yet opted in to receive these reports, you can do so at  Sean DeVetter is a PAGE staff attorney and the son of educators. He graduated from Emory University and Georgia State University College of Law and has served PAGE members for 12 years. PAGE ONE  35

Change is inevitable. Let’s Lead through it. “What routines blind me? What do I need to let go of? Who do I surround myself with? The stories, facts, and questions in Lead. Learn. Change. will encourage you to take action. Not only will you be impressed with what PAGE does, you will be compelled to focus on making an even greater difference with those whose paths you cross.”


Register for the Be Well SHBP® program to find out your body’s “true” age by taking the RealAge® Test. •

Receive personalized information based on your health

Complete activities to earn a $150 Visa Reward Card or 480 well-being incentive credits for eligible medical and pharmacy expenses.

— Hannah Talley, media specialist and award-winning educator, Dalton, GA

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Stay tuned to PAGE social media for release date and availability.

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OFFICERS President: Dr. Oatanisha Dawson President-Elect: To be filled Treasurer: Lamar Scott Past President: Lindsey Martin Secretary: Dr. Susan Mullins DIRECTORS District 1 District 8 To be filled Joy Robinson District 2 District 9 Brecca Pope Jennie Persinger District 3 District 10 Mary Case Khrista Henry District 4 District 11 Rochelle Lofstrand Amy Carter District 5 District 12 Dr. Shannon Watkins TaKera Harris District 6 District 13 Melanie Lockett Daerzio Harris District 7 Lance James DIRECTORS REPRESENTING RETIRED MEMBERS Vickie Hammond Dr. Sheryl Holmes


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The articles published in PAGE One represent the views of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, except where clearly stated. The articles and photos in this issue were developed and supplied prior to July 2021 masking recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To submit a topic for consideration, visit Contributions/gifts to the PAGE Foundation are deductible as charitable contributions by federal law. Costs for PAGE lobbying on behalf of members are not deductible. PAGE estimates that 7 percent of the nondeductible portion of your dues is allocated to lobbying. PAGE One (ISSN 1523-6188) is mailed to all PAGE members, selected higher education units, and other school-related professionals. An annual subscription is included in PAGE membership dues. A subscription for others is $10 annually. Periodicals class nonprofit postage paid at Atlanta, GA, and additional mailing offices. (USPS 017-347) Postmaster: Send address changes to PAGE One, P.O. Box 942270, Atlanta, GA 31141–2270. PAGE One is published three times a year (January, May, and September) by New South Publishing Inc., 9040 Roswell Road, Suite 210, Atlanta, GA 30350; 770-650-1102. Copyright ©2021.

August/September 2021

Education leaders choose UNG. For more than 140 years, the University of North Georgia has been developing education leaders who are highly sought after for their skills and experience. Our innovative graduate degrees and endorsement programs help educators advance their education and their careers.

Melissa Silva ‘19 UNG graduate and Fulbright scholar now teaching in Hall County Schools.



Elementary and Special Education

Post-Baccalaureate Initial Teaching Certification Program

Educational Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership and Practice

Master of Arts in Teaching Initial Certification Program

Autism Endorsement

Middle Grades Education Secondary Education in English, Mathematics, History, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics P-12 Education in Art, Music, and Physical Education

Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction Master of Education in Middle Grades Mathematics and Science Master of Education in Early Childhood Education

English for Speakers of Other Languages Endorsement Gifted Education Endorsement Reading Endorsement International Baccalaureate Certificate Diversity Certificate

Tier I Educational Leadership Certification Program

Post Master’s Certificate in Transfer Leadership and Practice

Tier II Educational Leadership Educational Specialist Degree Program or Certification-Only Program

Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate

Blue Ridge • Cumming • Dahlonega • Gainesville • Oconee • Online UNG is designated as a State Leadership Institution and as The Military College of Georgia®.


As you begin the new school year, Mercer University’s Tift College of Education is here to support you with a variety of degree and certification programs to advance your professional learning goals.




SHENEÉ HOLLOWAY, ’19 M.Ed. in Educational Leadership Federal Programs Specialist | Gwinnett County Public Schools




• Early Learning and Development, B.S.Ed. • Elementary/Special Education, B.S.Ed. • Elementary Education, M.A.T.  • Middle Grades Education, B.S.Ed. • Middle Grades Education, M.A.T.  • P-12 Education, M.A.T.  NEW • Secondary Education, M.A.T. 

• Elementary Education, M.Ed. • Middle Grades Education, M.Ed. • Secondary Education, M.Ed. • The Accomplished Teacher, Ed.S. NEW • Elementary Education • Middle Grades Education • P-12 Education • Secondary Education • Teacher Leadership, Ed.S. • Endorsements • Autism • K-5 Math • Coaching • K-5 Science • Computer • Online Science NEW Teaching NEW • ESOL • Reading • Gifted • STEM

• Educational Leadership (P-12 Tier One), M.Ed. • Educational Leadership (P-12 Tier Two), Ed.S. • Educational Leadership (P-12 Tier One) Certification Only (Non-Degree) • Educational Leadership (P-12 Tier Two) Certification Only (Non-Degree) • Educational Leadership, Ph.D. ↗ • P-12 School Leadership • Higher Education Leadership * • Higher Education Leadership, M.Ed. *


• School Counseling, M.S. ↗

Offered through Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement

• Curriculum and Instruction, Ph.D. ↗

 Meets requirements for provisionally certified teachers

seeking induction certificates

↗ The M.S. in School Counseling, Ph.D. in Curriculum and

Instruction, and Ph.D. in Educational Leadership require GRE or MAT scores for admission *Does not lead to initial certification or certification upgrades

Mercer University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Education programs that lead to initial and advanced certification are approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC).