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One of the boys
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Artie Brunson did not choose to major in education, but discovered he loved working with young children through an early childhood development elective he took so he could share a class with and his cousin.

"Sometimes you may not know why a path was chosen," Brunson said, "but you just feel like you're on the right one."

Previously a literacy coach at West Newton Elementary School, Brunson began teaching the all-male third grade class at Livingston Elementary School this year.

"This year has been a great opportunity to take what I learned about best practices as a literacy coach and apply it in the classroom," Brunson said.

Small group practice is one of the methods he learned as a literacy coach, which he is now cultivating in his classroom and it works across all subject areas.

"The big advantage of that is if I'm at a table with a small group, I can have greater interaction with the students and see when they are making errors and correct them immediately," Brunson said.

He said this method allows students to assist others, better ingraining the information as they explain it, as well as helping him monitor student progress.

Brunson has taught for 12 years, but this is his first year teaching in a same-sex classroom. Livingston also has an all-girl class.

Same-sex classrooms are a growing trend in Georgia and in the nation according to Brunson.

Livingston parents were allowed to apply for their children to learn in a same-sex environment, and it was so popular many students could not participate.

Brunson explained an all-male classroom has its disadvantages and advantages.

"A group of all boys does not sit still for very long," Brunson said.

He said any classroom needs a variety of instructional style and subject matter for children to remain interested, but a group of boys seems to fidget more and after a shorter amount of time.

Although teaching only boys requires a high level of vigor, Brunson said he does not mind the liveliness needed to keep their attention.

"I think this is an excellent group for me," Brunson said, "because I'm very high energy."

Because students spent more time during the week at school than at home, Brunson feels school is their home away from home - and his too. Therefore, while learning remains the main focus of his work, he wants everyone to have fun too.

One of the advantages to an all-male class is the competitive nature of 8- and 9-year-old boys.

Being the bubbly instructor he is does not challenge Brunson - but that does not mean his job does not present him a significant amount of head-scratchers.

"My biggest challenge is making sure the needs of all my students are met," Brunson said, "and I think that's true for any teacher."

Since students who fail the math or reading portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests they take in the spring can not move on to fourth grade, Brunson tries to make sure all of his students are strong in those subjects.

He said his boys struggle more with math because this year's curricula was aligned to meet the more rigorous Georgia Performance Standards outlined by the state department of education.

"But just because something is difficult, it doesn't mean we won't do well on it," Brunson said.

Because the reading portion of the CRCT is also crucial to academic advancement, Brunson tries to reinforce positively a desire to read.

Students in his class earn points for rewards by reading books in a program called Book Adventure, which he said provides low-stress reading assignments and mixes it with the computer technology students of today crave in the classroom.

"As they collect the points, it gives them a sense of pride," Brunson said.

Sometimes difficulty arises from wrestling to balance the education of his students with his own. Brunson will finish his course work for an educational leadership specialist degree from Georgia College and State University in the spring.

"I don't know what's going to be more exciting, having the degree or finally being finished," Brunson said.

As part of his degree's intern hour requirements, Brunson works as a trainer in the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) program at Livingston.

"That role will be teaching students as well as assisting other teachers," Brunson said.

Next month Brunson will also lead Livingston's instructional extension, a county-wide after-school tutoring program.

Brunson said he enjoys teaching third grade because students become independent learners through learning about responsibility, organization and time management -things not measured by state standards, but needed as life skills.

"Teaching is kind of like building a house," Brunson said. "You build scaffolding and slowly build the house up and eventually remove the scaffolding and allow them to learn on their own."

Brunson, a rare male elementary school teacher, said schools do not need more male teachers but rather adults who are committed to and responsible for children's educations. He said teachers also should feel passionate about student success, which he feels is one of the best parts of his profession.

"Being with children is the best reward," Brunson said, "because they are full of love, energy and enthusiasm."