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Finding a balance
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Felicia Bailey, third grade teacher at West Newton Elementary School, has enjoyed working with children since she first worked in the nursery at her home church.

However, she said she didn't plan to become a teacher until she was in sixth grade.

 "We had a career week in middle school and we had to talk about what we wanted to do," Bailey said.

She said it started her thought process about a career in education.

Bailey is in her 10th year as a teacher - her sixth at West Newton. She taught for four years in DeKalb County before moving to Newton County.

As a third grade teacher, Bailey has the important task of preparing her students for the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Tests taken in the spring. Third grade students who do not pass the reading portion of the test cannot advance to fourth grade according to state law.

"My job is simply how to get them to understand what they read and to draw meaning from it," Bailey said.

She said students read one story a week and dissect its plot, characters and theme. She also tries to integrate the lessons they are learning in language arts into their social studies and science lessons so the message is reiterated, emphasizing the importance of the skill.

Bailey said all of her students are good readers, but she wants them to be able to analyze what they read rather than memorize it.

"For third grade I try to focus not so much on the subject matter, but rather about teaching them to be independent learners," Bailey said.

While reviewing in-class and homework assignments she will not give students correct answers to those answered incorrectly, but rather supplies them with clues on how and where to find the correct ones. Once students find the correct answers on their own, she encourages the others to celebrate for them.

Bailey also likes to celebrate good behavior and hard work. She assigns several students weekly tasks such as board eraser and hall monitor.

"Everybody gets a job," Bailey said, "and they love it because the board is called 'teacher's pets.'"

Students who complete their homework and have their agenda signed everyday that week may enjoy what the students call "T.L. Fridays," which stands for TV and lunch in the classroom Friday.

"At the beginning of the year, only three or four were staying," Bailey said. "Now it's three-fourths of the class."

Also, on the last Thursday of the month students have a good behavior party where students with no or few marks on her class misbehavior chart can eat lunch in the classroom, receive an extra snack and may bring in school-appropriate music to listen to during lunch.

Bailey said giving students choices on school projects, in addition to rewarding them, improves the quality of their work and gives them more of a sense of ownership in the things they create.

For their Black History Month projects students could choose to write a report, design a poster or create trading cards.

"I'm very proud of them," Bailey said. "They did excellent work."

In addition to being a classroom teacher, she coordinates the planning of the 10 third grade teachers at West Newton as the grade-level chair.

"It's overwhelming at times," Bailey said, "but I have wonderful teammates - we're very cohesive."

She said she loves teaching at West Newton because the staff is like a family.

"Everybody speaks to each other, and if you need something, we'll find it for you," Bailey said. "My mother passed away recently, and I was overwhelmed with love."

Her colleagues also voted her as West Newton's 2008 teacher of the year.

She said at times, being a teacher, a student, a mom and a grade-level chair is a tremendous task, but she takes everything as it comes to her.

"The only challenge I really see in teaching is time management," Bailey said, "but that's something you work on daily - it's not something you can master."

Her favorite things about being a teacher are interacting with the students and watching them grow as well as collaborating with her peers about how to serve the children better.

Bailey said her ultimate professional goal is someday to open an after-school tutoring center that is grant funded so she can provide additional academic services to students who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

"My heart really goes out to the children that struggle," Bailey said. "I feel like if the ones who struggled could be brought up, it would change the world because they would go to college and send their children to college."