All teachers new to the Newton County School System, whether they have never had a classroom of their own or they have taught for 20 years, met yesterday at Alcovy High School for breakfast and an induction program.
Both Shelley Kirk and Stephanie Freeman will start their teaching career in Newton County, even though both of them live in Rockdale County.
Kirk, who will teach first grade at Rocky Plains Elementary, moved to Conyers a year ago after she graduated from the University of South Carolina Spartanburg and her husband accepted a job in Conyers.
She said she wanted to substitute for a year to see if she liked the school system and ended up on the Newton County roster. She decided to apply for a full-time position this year.
"I don't know how it happened really," Kirk said.
Freeman, a recent graduate of Georgia College and State University who will teach fourth grade at Oak Hill Elementary, also decided to apply in Newton County rather than Rockdale.
"There's a lot more out here to choose from," Freeman said.
Nick Collins also attended the program. Collins previously taught and acted as assistant head coach at Dublin High School, before accepting the head coach position at Newton High School.
He had a very simple reason for why he chose Newton County.
"It's just my dream job I guess," Collins said.
All Newton County teachers have one week to prepare for the first day of class on July 27.
"I've been setting up my room for about a week now, and I still don't feel like everything's done," Kirk said.
After more than 200 teachers ate a breakfast provided by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, they were welcomed to the county by NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley.
"This is about the only time we can get together as a group of employees of the school system to introduce central office staff and talk about direction," Whatley said.
He explained the overarching goals and philosophies of the system, as well as encouraged teachers to come to school everyday and arrive on time as well as treat every day as if it was the day before a standardized or end-of-course test.
Whatley asked parents in the audience to raise their hands.
"How many of you want your child to be in a classroom where the teacher is unprepared, doesn't have control or doesn't challenge the children," Whatley asked. "I don't think any of you do."
RaNae Sims, director of student services, presented information about the county's demographics, resources, opportunities for higher education and staggering growth.
"Yet, this high quality of life has been preserved," Sims said.
Sims boasted about the county's fully accredited public safety divisions, recreational outlets and arts community as well as discussed the drastic changes the education system has seen since the early 1990s.
In 1911, the county had 3,379 students. From 1993 to 2007 the system added 10,000 students and 650 staff members to its ranks. This year administrators expect enrollment numbers to increase to more than 19,000 students.
Today the system includes 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools and one alternative school for a total of 20 schools. In 1911, Newton County housed 26 schools for white children and 26 schools for black children for a total of 52 schools.
In 2007, many local children ride "yellow Greyhounds" to school. In 1911, some county children rode to school in horse-drawn carriages in what may have been the first free public transportation provided to students in Georgia.
Sims also reminded the teachers of the upcoming public referendum to re-adopt the current education special purpose local option sales tax and approve the sale of general obligation bonds on Sept. 18.
"The great thing about this type of funding is there will be no tax increases if this referendum is voted upon favorably," Sims said.
She said much has changed in Newton County since 1911, but not the common goals of its educators.
"We work with a renewed sense of spirit, pride and excellence," Sims said. "These attributes have continued through the years in Newton County schools."
Whatley then introduced the 2007 Newton County Teacher of the year, Fairview Elementary pre-K teacher Shelley Yeatman.
Yeatman, a long-time educator and Newton County employee since 1996, was recognized for her creative lesson plans and dedication to teaching even in the face of tragedy.
In April of 2005, Yeatman's husband died suddenly. She finished out the school year and spent the entire summer researching and preparing to sell the retail shop he owned in Conyers. She sold the store the week before school started.
That November she took off the entire month to grieve, feeling she had lost the passion for teaching.
"Austin always said 'if crying is not going to make a difference, then let's figure it out,'" Yeatman said.
Whatley suggested she enroll in a master's program offered by Lesley University called "Teaching and Learning through the Arts."
She regained her passion for teaching as she began her classes, and then in January she discovered she had breast cancer and began treatment that caused her to lose her hair.
Through all of this she persevered and was honored this year with the title of teacher of the year.
"Through it all she has been a champion," Whatley said, "a champion for her children, her school, her students and for her self."
Yeatman appeared on stage dressed as a glittering queen bee. She said this captures her student's attention and hoped it would do the same for the audience.
She explained how teachers are charged to be life-long learners and encourage their students to be the same.
"Gandhi said 'be the change you want to see in the world,' and I am very inspired by those words," Yeatman said.
A successful classroom defined by Yeatman is a "peaceful, positive and productive environment" where children work through conflict with words rather than fists and each has his or her own individual classroom responsibilities.Yeatman encouraged the teachers to integrate the arts into all lessons.
She sang a song about curriculum to the audience, which she had written to the tune of the Temptations "The Way You Do the Things You Do" for one of her graduate classes.
"I couldn't tell you to do it if I didn't get up here and do it myself," Yeatman said.
She gave the teachers the same motto to live by that she supplies to her students.
"Be the best that you can be, and see the best in everybody," Yeatman said.
She also offered this advice to new teachers or ones who felt excitement was missing from their careers.
"Live life, love learning," Yeatman said. "Dream big for your kids, even the ones who seem like just a pain."
Yeatman said the silly bee costume she entered the auditorium in was a key to learning and that keys come in all different shapes and sizes.
"Some people see a closed door and walk away. Some people see a closed door, try the knob and when it doesn't work, turn away," Yeatman said. "Still others will see a closed door, turn the knob, find a key and if the key doesn't work, will walk away. A rare few will see the door, turn the knob, try the key and when it doesn't work - make a key.
"I wonder how many of you will make keys to open the doors of your students hearts and minds."