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Making a full circle
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Brenda Wharton, sixth grade math teacher at Veterans Memorial Middle School, started her career in education as an assistant teacher in an advanced high school math classroom.

She then taught as the lead teacher in a Head Start Program. After five years she left education and worked in retail for several years.

"After Jasmine was born, I had to do some soul searching because I knew I needed to do something else," Wharton said.

After her daughter was born, she went back to school and became certified in elementary education with a concentration in middle school math.

"I've kind of come full circle," Wharton said.

Wharton said sixth grade math is extremely important because it builds the foundations for all other math courses students will take in middle and high school and later if they continue their education.

She said she often incorporates small group work into her lesson plans.

"It helps some of the students because sometimes they will understand a student better than they do a teacher," Wharton said.

An ongoing contest in all of her classes pit small groups against each other in a Jeopardy-style competition. Groups write their answers on small dry-erase boards, and groups with the most correct answers in each class receive prizes every month.

However, small groups don't work for every student

"Sometimes I just have to give them individual instruction," Wharton said.

Wharton tutors students who need additional help in the morning and afternoon.

Giving students choices also helps them learn certain concepts, according to Wharton.

For a unit about graphing, she had students conduct in-class surveys asking each other about their favorite shoe, store, Web site, etc. Students then chose whether to present the date in a line, bar or circle graph.

In addition to being as a classroom teacher, Wharton serves as a sixth grade team leader and a sixth grade math Teacher Focus program leader and is a member of the leadership committee.

Her peers also voted her as Veterans' 2008 teacher of the year, which she said came as a surprise to her.

"I'm very honored and willing to do everything I can do to fill my position as teacher of the year," Wharton said.

Wharton said she not only teaches students how to balance algebraic expressions or solve a geometric proof, but also teaches them about self-esteem and self-awareness.

"I love children," Wharton said, "and I have a passion for helping them find their greatness."

While she has given some thought to becoming a school counselor, she said students will always be her first priority.

"I just want to do anything I can to help them become productive citizens," she said.