The Thomaston-Upson Board of Education honored the four school system Teachers of the Year at their December 8 meeting, presenting each of them with a plaque and award for their nominations.
School Superintendent Dr. Maggie Shook read a brief bio sketch of each of the teachers, along with comments about why they teach that they put in their nominations forms.
Tiffany Bentley is the Upson-Lee South Elementary Teacher of the Year. Bentley holds a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mercer University, a Master’s in interrelated special education from Columbus State University, and a Specialist degree in curriculum and instruction from Georgia College and State University. She taught at Upson-Lee Middle School from 2006 – 2011 and has taught at Upson-Lee South since 2011. She is currently a special education co-teacher in grades 2 and 3.
Bentley believes that her greatest rewards lie in the smiles she sees on the faces of her students as they learn and grow in their educational careers and the enormous thanks from parents who have watched their children struggle yet begin to see them steadily make progress.
Bentley’s first priority as a special education teacher is to make a personal connection with the students and build relationships. Once that personal relationship is in place, she begins the education process. She wrote, “It is my job as a special education teacher to convince these students that they can do things right and can do things well. It might not be fun and it certainly won’t be easy, but it is achievable. Just because something is hard does not mean it is something you cannot do.”
Donna Gravitt is the Upson-Lee North Elementary Teacher of the Year. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Mercer University, along with a Master’s degree and a Specialist degree from Georgia Southwestern State University. She began her teaching career at Upson-Lee North Elementary in 2001 teaching fifth grade. Currently she teaches fourth grade English Language Arts.
Gravitt believes that the education standards she teaches every day are important but that life lessons are important, as well. She wrote, “I want my students to learn how to find the main idea in a reading passage, but I also want them to learn how to treat other people fairly. I hope my example shows my students that everyone, regardless of race, position, or gender deserves to be treated equally.”
Angel Kelly is the Upson-Lee High School Teacher of the Year. Kelly earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from the University of West Georgia. She teaches the law and justice career pathway at Upson-Lee High School and has been there since 2008. Since becoming a teacher, Angel continuously looks for different ways to engage, challenge, and impact her students. In 2008, when Mrs. Kelly began her teaching career, there were two members in the Upson-Lee High School SkillsUSA Career and Technical Organization. At the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, there were 72 members.
Kelly knows that each student’s needs are different. The challenge is to change or adjust one’s teaching styles to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. She wrote that teachers must be willing to change and must accept change among their students. She also believes in expressing gratitude and appreciation daily, being mindful of negative energy, and seeking to surround yourself with positive people.
Stephanie Brodnax is the Upson-Lee Middle School and Thomaston-Upson School System Teacher of the Year. Brodnax received a Bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from Georgia Southern University and is gifted certified. She began her teaching career in 2009 at Upson-Lee Middle School where she teaches seventh grade science.
Today and every day, Brodnax wants to be a positive influence on others, especially on her students. She wrote, “I want to show my students how loved they are and how proud I am for every success they accomplish, big or small.” She also wants to open students’ eyes to the choices available to them in this world and to give them the skills needed to weigh these choices and make the choices that are right for them.
To Brodnax , the true definition of an outstanding teacher is “a person who creates a positive learning environment, uses differentiated instruction, and has high expectations for his or her students.” She increases students’ motivation to learn and succeed by embodying this definition. Her classroom is safe, welcoming, and enriching. She digs deep to find out where her students’ interests lie and how to best reach them and teach them. She does not “settle” in the classroom. She wrote, “When I find that my students fully understand the material, I take it a step further to push them academically. Learning does not stop with mastery. We should never stop learning. It is my job to guide these students, to support these students, to challenge these students, and to NEVER give up.”
Brodnax will represent the Thomaston-Upson School System in the 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.