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Rewarded by students' learning
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 Sometimes it takes years for many people to figure out what they want out of their professional life.

 People stumble through jobs and change professions everyday, even after investing several years to a career. However, that's not the case for everyone.

 Alicia Stewart, a fifth grade teacher at Mansfield Elementary School, knew since her days as a freshman at the University of Georgia she wanted to teach.

 "I've always been a teacher," Stewart said. "I thought about going into business, but then I realized I wouldn't be happy doing that. There's something different everyday in this job."

 While financial analysts are measured on their ability to return a profit by their client's investments, fulfillment for a teacher often comes from within.

"I realized the impact my teachers had on me. When I look back at the changes I went through and the reasons why, I can't imagine doing anything else. I enjoy the kids and what we do together. Everyday I learn something from them."

 Like most teachers in Georgia, Stewart spends much of her available class time preparing her students for the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test. She teaches math, science and language arts and finds each child has specific needs.

 "Education is not an exact science; it isn't one size fits all. It's a challenge to try to figure out how you need to teach something so a child understands the content. What I do for this child may not work for another child, so it's a challenge to find that balance."

 While the emphasis inevitably turns CRCT preparation, Stewart keeps it light and has a unique approach in the classroom.

 Her progressive teaching style allows her students the opportunity to work in groups and even teach sections of class.

 For example, during her language arts class last Thursday, the students worked together to assign responsibilities for a newspaper project they are working on. Stewart's role in the assignment is that of a publisher.

 "The kids are self-sufficient at this point. They aren't in the beginning of the year, but throughout the year I teach them to work in groups and how to communicate and delegate responsibility. They end up able to teach each other. Towards the end [of the year], this is what I love."

 Stewart taught kindergarten for 11 years before moving to fifth grade. Now in her 22nd year, she knows she made the right career choice.

 "I thought of, at one time, going into nursing," she said. "It's another field that's in high demand and is needed. I just love helping and teaching people. I'll probably get into something different after I retire."

 Having spent the first half of her career teaching kindergarten, Stewart says she misses teaching younger students. As a result, she will switch to the Quest program next year to teach advanced courses to kindergarten through fifth grade students.

 "When I left kindergarten, I was ready to leave," Stewart said. "I went straight to fifth grade, and that was a huge jump. But when I go to Quest next year, I'll have all age groups and I'll get to work with K-5. One of the reasons I want to change is because I miss the little ones."

 Stewart is excited about her change to the Quest program next year but admits her fifth graders are special. Every year brings a new set of challenges, and this year has been no different.

"At the end of the year you see your reward," Stewart said. "You see them pull it all together. When I can sit back and watch a child leave a classroom, I see myself in them. That is what makes everything worth teaching."