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From court to the classroom
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Carrie Tinsley, fifth grade teacher at Middle Ridge Elementary School, is only a second year teacher, but she has lots of experience with young people.

After her graduation from UGA, she began working as a Newton County Juvenile Court intake officer. After five years, she decided it was time for a change.

"I was working with kids who had already made a lot of bad choices," Tinsley said.

Instead of working with children on the punitive end of crime, she wanted to work on the preventative end as a positive adult role model.

"Because I know what bad decisions kids can make," Tinsley said. "I try to educate them about the consequences of their behavior."

She said her goal as a fifth grade teacher is to prepare her students for middle school and help them learn how to make positive decisions.

A large part of her job is ensuring students are ready to take the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test given in the spring.

If fifth grade students do not pass the reading and the math portion of the test, they cannot advance to sixth grade.

"We don't try to cram for a test at the end of the year," Tinsley said. "What we learn builds on itself all year long."

Tinsley keeps a word wall in her classroom where she posts key terms in every subject to keep them fresh in students' minds.

She said Middle Ridge's reading buddy program, which pairs fifth graders with first graders really enhances the skills of students in both grades.

"It's amazing how the fifth graders become like a big brother or big sister," Tinsley said.

At Middle Ridge students who meet their math goals are allowed to dance in the hallways and perform at a PTO night. They can also earn credits in the school's Mustang Market to buy school supplies.

As a new teacher, Tinsley said she greatly appreciates the school-wide academic reward and behavior modification programs Middle Ridge has implemented.

For example, every classroom has a "chill zone."

"If they are disrespectful or disruptive, they immediately go to the chill zone," Tinsley said.

If the misbehavior continues students go to a buddy zone in a different room, then to a reflection zone where they discuss the problem with an adult.

In her first year teaching, Tinsley enhanced the student council to involve extensive campaigning through posters and speeches on the school announcements. She also serves as the Middle Ridge Relay for Life sponsor.

Tinsley gave college graduates some advice for how to survive their first year teaching.

"You have to look at the small progress to keep yourself going," Tinsley said.

She also said teachers should set a routine and boundaries the first day of school and remain consistent with their schedule and consequences for misbehavior.

"At this age, that's what they need," Tinsley said.

She said her job as an intake officer not only helps her follow through on her word, but also to remember some students may come from turbulent or abusive households, which is even more motivation to be a solid foundation of consistency for her students.

"They're my kids eight hours a day, five days a week and that's how I treat them," Tinsley said.

Tinsley loves teaching fifth grade because of the drastic physical and mental changes she witnesses in her students throughout the year.

While she still helps out at the county drug court, she said she has really found her niche as a teacher and feels like her work has purpose.

"I like that I make a difference in their lives everyday," Tinsley said, "compared to my last job which was kind of to just pick up the pieces."