NEWTON COUNTY – This year, the Newton County School System (NCSS) welcomed 176 new teachers across the county.
The Covington News recently spoke with five of the new teachers about their passion for teaching and what they most look forward to as fresh faces in Newton County.
Erik Brown, first grade, Middle Ridge Elementary
With experience having previously worked as a paraprofessional in the NCSS, this year marks Erik Brown’s first year as a teacher. Brown’s six year tenure as a paraprofessional encompassed working in a self-contained classroom, special education with grades K-5 and kindergarten.
After discovering his passion for teaching through volunteer work at his sisters’ elementary school, Brown pursued a career in education. His favorite thing about teaching is the moment when students are able to fully grasp what they are being taught.
“The thing I enjoy most about being a teacher is seeing the look on a student’s face when they are really understanding the content,” Brown said. “I can’t quite put it into words, but it makes me feel like I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do.”
Brown earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education and specialized in special education at Mercer University. In his spare time, Brown enjoys singing, listening to music, playing video games and traveling. He looks forward to going to the beach with his family each summer.
For this school year, Brown looks forward to working with his students and their families to ensure their goals are met and that they succeed academically and beyond his classroom. He strives to create an environment where school is a positive and joyous experience for his pupils.
Shalom Carter, Family & Consumer Science, Clements Middle
Shalom Carter’s teaching resume spans 14 years across several schools including Decatur High, Rockdale County High, Summerour Middle and Jordan Middle. A “proud” resident of Newton County since 2010, this year is Carter’s first working in the county she resides in.
Carter’s decision to begin teaching in Newton County stems from her desire to invest in the county’s students. Carter said NCSS is one of the few school systems that still offers family and consumer science in middle school. However, the personal growth students experience in middle school is Carter’s favorite thing about teaching.
“When a student arrives in sixth grade, they are afraid and clueless about middle school and then [to] see them before they leave eighth grade and the confidence and maturity that they carry is amazing,” Carter said. “The best part of it all is when they remember you as the teacher that taught them life skills like cooking, cleaning and budgeting. It’s a feeling that I cannot describe, but it often brings me tears.”
Prior to becoming a teacher 14 years ago, Carter served as a food service district manager. After encouragement from her coworkers to pursue teaching due to her abil
ity to “explain things very well,” Carter obtained her master’s degree in secondary education from Grand Canyon University. She earned her bachelor’s in public health nutrition from West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
Swimming, cooking, baking, crafting, traveling, coloring and listening to music are some of Carter’s hobbies. As she embarks on her first year in her home county, Carter looks forward to building relationships with her students and seeing them out and about in the community with their families.
Gwendolyn Strong, ninth grade counselor, Eastside High
Coming to the NCSS from its neighbor, Rockdale County Public Schools, Gwendolyn Strong brings 15 years of school counseling experience to Eastside. Strong came to the county to work with high school students and assist them in identifying their path following graduation.
As a student, Strong considered school her favorite place to be, providing her with knowledge and experiences she would not have had elsewhere. Thus, she pursued school counseling to provide students with the same care she was provided by former educators as a student. Providing aid to students regarding their personal conflicts is what Strong looks forward to most.
“I enjoy seeing ‘ah ha’ moments from students,” Strong said. “Often when a student comes to see a school counselor, they have been dealing with an issue for some time alone. Being provided with the opportunity to teach a student new skills that help him/her problem solve on their own provides me with happiness.”
Strong earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Valdosta State, her master’s in education in school counseling from the University of West Georgia and her specialist’s in school counseling from Valdosta State. In her spare time, she enjoys her affiliation with Girl Scouts of America, arts and crafts and reading.
This year, Strong looks forward to working with Eastside’s freshman class and helping them settle into high school. She noted she could not be “more pleased” with the start of her first year in the NCSS as the support she has received from fellow teachers has been excellent.
Laura Lopez, seventh grade, Clements Middle
After retiring from the United States Marine Corps after serving 20 years, Laura Lopez is bringing her experience to the classroom for her first year as a teacher. However, Lopez isn’t unfamiliar with teaching, as she taught different military subjects while in the Marines.
She noted the difference in the master sergeant steps in front of the Marines versus when she steps in front of her seventh graders – “apples and oranges,” Lopez said.
Originally from Texas, Lopez recently retired in Newton County, though she clarified that she roots for the Atlanta Falcons, not the Dallas Cowboys.
Inspired to begin her teaching career due to it being her “calling,” Lopez considers students to be an extension of the teacher. Her favorite aspect of teaching so far is how receptive her students are.
“Every day is a different day and these students show up and they are eager to hear what you have to say,” Lopez said. “They are like sponges and just when you think they are not listening they surprise you.”
Lopez earned her bachelor’s in psychology from St. Leo University. In her free time, she enjoys scrapbooking and building Legos. As a new teacher, Lopez looks forward to learning with her students and growing together as a team.
Tammy Milline, second grade, Flint Hill
This school year, veteran teacher Tammy Milline entered her 12th year of teaching and her first in the NCSS. Milline previously taught grades K-2 in Rockdale County for 11 years and came to Newton County to be closer to family.
As the daughter of an educator, Milline realized her passion for education when her father, who doubled as her high school history teacher, gave her the opportunity to present to the class during her junior year. What Milline most enjoys in the teaching profession is providing guidance and support to her students.
“I enjoy being a teacher because I have the privilege of helping young boys and girls discover knowledge,” Milline said. “I believe in every single one of my students and I want them to believe in themselves. I always tell my students the most important thing I want them to learn from me is to be kind to others. Character education goes hand in hand with academic education and I enjoy having the privilege of teaching my students to be well-rounded human beings.”
Milline earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakwood University and her master’s and specialist degree from Mercer University. Her hobbies include outdoor activities, journaling and traveling.
In her first year in the NCSS, she looks forward to helping her students learn to read, equipping them with problem solving strategies and empowering them to become better people. Milline said though the school year has had ups and downs, it has been “mostly ups” with the help of her team of teachers.
This is a recurring spotlight series. The Covington News will feature more new teachers on the next monthly education page in our Oct. 14-15 weekend print edition.