Working in the same profession for 25 years is almost unheard of these days. Driving to the same work place for 20 years is too becoming a rarity. For first grade teacher Perri Walden, it's par for the course.
"I have always enjoyed being a teacher," Walden said. "I was really excited about coming over to the new school. I wanted to teach in an interactive classroom. I had to get in on this technology. I love it."
The technology she refers to are the interactive white boards at the county's newest elementary school. Like everyone else, Walden is new to South Salem, but this isn't her first time in the class room. After spending her first five years in Social Circle, Walden made the 10-mile trek to Newton County where she's been the past 20 years. Opening a new school is also something she has experienced.
Walden is one of the original teachers who started her Newton County career at Fairview Elementary in 1988. During her tenure at Fairview, Walden taught first grade for 13 years, another six years of third grade and one year of fifth. Now at South Salem, she feels back at home with her new class of first graders.
Walden said her father inspired her to pursue a degree in education. She recalled her days in college when she wanted to be a musician
"I originally wanted to be an opera singer," Walden said. "My first love was music. I studied music hard for a year, but I floundered about before I talked to my dad about teaching."
Walden attended Georgia State University, the same school her father taught at, and studied early childhood development. She has since added her specialist degree and is a national board certified teacher.
Now in her 26th year, Walden has gained years of valuable research and, through a trial-and-error, has tried several approaches. What she's learned is that what worked 20 years ago doesn't necessarily work in today's classroom. As a result, she uses a new style of teaching that captures the attention and imagination of 6- and 7-year-old children.
Walden promotes center-based learning, the basic concept of which promotes interactive education. Walden splits her class into small groups, usually four students or less, and rotates them between learning stations. Typically, students spend 15 minutes at each learning station before rotating.
Walden said center-based learning allows the teacher to work more closely with each student. She believes in it so much, she is collaborating with former Newton County teacher of the year and current Newton County Board of Education member C.C. Bates in authoring a book on the subject.
Unlike the traditional teaching methods, in which teachers stood in front of a classroom and spoke to the group as a whole, center-based learning keeps the students' attention.
"I try and differentiate what I teach," Walden said. "What I do in here is give each kid an opportunity to perform at their level. Center-based education allows for teachers to differentiate and really work with students on their level."
For Walden, teaching is more than a job and her affection for children goes beyond the classroom. Recently, Walden and her husband Dan, who serves as the director of youth ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Covington, added another member to their family. When the mother of friend of their youngest daughter Jodi died in June from cancer, the Walden's opened their arms to the teen and welcomed her in their home in downtown Covington.
"She could have gotten emancipated at that age, but we all felt like that wasn't the way to go," Walden said. "Meghann said she still wanted to be a kid."
Although Walden has spent her entire career in the classroom, she doesn't rule out a transition into leadership. While she enjoys working with her students, Walden admits she may one day consider becoming an assistant principal or beyond.
"After 30 years, teachers can retire," Walden said. "But I'm young and I think I would be interested in looking into going into administration.
"You never know what will happen in the future," she added. "Whatever does happen, I know it will be in Newton County. I really enjoy living and teaching in the county."