Thursday, February 03, 2011

Selection of Fayette’s Top Teacher Underway

Two science teachers and a math teacher round out this year’s finalists for Fayette County Teacher of the Year.

None of them envisioned teaching as a career; instead they wanted fame and fortune until a miraculous realization about themselves changed their lives forever. Read their stories and you will know why they have been selected as “the best of the best.”

On his way to becoming a specialist at nuclear image reconstruction programming, Keelan Seabolt, a physics teacher at Sandy Creek High, discovered he was missing something: personal satisfaction.
Seabolt says he never thought about teaching as a career even though his mother and sister were successful math teachers. His dream was to become a successful research scientist. While studying physics at Georgia Tech, he got his first taste of teaching.

“I signed up to become a teaching assistant in calculus. I thought to myself that I had always enjoyed math and was able to help clarify abstract concepts to my friends who were enrolled in upper level math courses,” says Seabolt. “Plus, I felt it would be a great addition to my growing resume for graduate school or employment.”

Although his classes were successful and he enjoyed the rush he felt when his students finally understood an abstract concept, he still had his mind set on being a research physicist. He continued his research at the University of Florida when one day it hit him: he needed to interact with others and pass his knowledge on to future generations.

Seabolt moved back to Georgia and secured a sixth grade math teaching position at Bennett’s Mill Middle where he taught for a year before moving to his alma mater, Sandy Creek High.

Seabolt says a successful teacher has to know his subject, but also his students.

“I care for each student and their success in my class. I enjoy helping them improve their belief in themselves and their own ability to learn by showing them that physics isn’t just for students who are good in math or science,” he says.

Seabolt uses a variety of methods to address students’ various learning styles. Along with traditional exams and quizzes, students also draw comics and cartoons about energy, and design plans for effective energy conservation for at home and school.

Seabolt has taught in the Fayette County Public School System for five years.

Shelly Dowse’s road to teaching mirrors Seabolt’s. She loved science in high school, and her teacher, Mrs. JoAnne Reid. She saw how hard Mrs. Reid worked and thought to herself, “Who in their right mind would ever consider this kind of career?”

So off to college she went to major in biological engineering and make lots of money.

“I was going to make artificial body parts. Everyone would think that I was important and smart, and they would know that I made lots of money by the fancy car I drove,” she says.

Ironically, just like Seabolt, she finally realized she was not going to enjoy life as an engineer. Why? She knew she needed to be around people, in her words, “lots and lots of people.”

She changed her major to education and set her sights on becoming a science teacher.

“That’s when I said bye-bye BMW; hello, used car,” she jokes.

But Dowse has never looked back on her decision to teach. She knows she ended up with the career that is perfect for her.

Dowse teaches chemistry at McIntosh High. She knows the subject is difficult and scary to her students, so she does little things to encourage them such a pat on the back, a nudge in the right direction when they are off track, 20 minutes of extra instruction before or after school, or an extra push when they are not pushing themselves.

“Doing these things occur as naturally as blinking or breathing, but these are what students consider special, the qualities that separate the good from the average,” she says.

The tried and true qualities that have proven successful in her classroom are fairness; flexibility; positive, supportive attitude; organized delivery of lessons; and practical application of these lessons to everyday life. And, at the top of the list, building relationships with students.

Dowse says the rewards in teaching are countless. In her mind, it is the little things that are monumental.

“It’s the baby steps my students and I take that lead us to conquering equation problems at the end of the semester, the personal maturity that takes place in their sophomore or junior year, and their growth as a person,” she says. “I like to take a smidgen of credit for that. It’s nice to think that perhaps my endless reminders about using manners or being nice or honest has had an effect on them.”

Dowse has taught for 20 years. She has spent the last four of them at McIntosh.

Aimee Gumerson did not just “play” school growing up; she lived it. Her mother and grandmother opened a Christian preschool in Fayette County and she helped out. As a teenager, she was creating classroom materials and helping teachers with small tasks. But this experience did not steer her to pursue an educational career; instead, she was going to be the next Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer.
“I wanted to be a world famous reporter,” she says.

That was until her sophomore year at Georgia State University when she realized journalism was not for her.

“Journalists are known for their cynicism. I’m a bit of an optimist, so I preferred a career without that sort of negativity,” she explains.

That is when the idea struck her that perhaps she would like to be a teacher. She changed her studies to middle grades education with a major in language arts and a minor in math. Gumerson is currently a math teacher at Fayette Middle.

Gumerson says she has been surrounded by great teachers all of her life, from working in her family’s preschool through elementary to high school. She is certain it was these experiences that lead her to teach.

“I learned that children deserve to be taught by individuals who genuinely care for and about them. I realized that teaching requires intense dedication and devotion from teachers as well as a passion for sharing a subject they love with students. These factors made the decision to become a teacher the most natural choice,” she says.

Getting students interested in math and wanting to come back for more takes a little persuasion.

Gumerson uses traditional teaching methods sparingly, and incorporates more hands-on learning.

“I like putting students into pairs, small groups, and teams, and having them work together to be fully engaged in whatever content we’re learning. I like to use class games and real-life scenarios to illustrate the concepts to my students and get them involved in their learning,” she adds.

Like most teachers, it is those “aha” moments that Gumerson finds most rewarding.

“I live for the moments when students actually get it and I can see them get the same correct response that I got. When they feel confident enough to show their neighbor what to do, or when they raise their hand confidently to volunteer, those experiences are the very reasons why I enjoy teaching year after year,” she says.

Gumerson has taught for 12 years, all in the Fayette County Public School System. She taught at Whitewater Middle, Fayette County High, and Flat Rock Middle before joining the staff at Fayette Middle.

The 2011 Fayette County Teacher of the Year winner will be announced on April 21, 6 pm, during the annual ceremony at New Hope Baptist Church, North Campus.

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