Three Newton County teachers were surprised and excited Monday - more so than usual, of course - when they were named finalists for the county's 2012 Teacher of the Year award.
Art teacher Karen Greene, special education teacher Rothell Lewis, Jr. and economics teacher Aaron Robinson and were selected as finalists from 22 applicants by a panel of local educators based on their written essays and interviews.
The panel's final step is to observe all three in the classroom, after which a winner will be chosen and announced at a ceremony at 4:45 p.m. Oct. 6 at Newton High School.
Greene teaches at East Newton Elementary School and she's been with the school system since 1997 and serves as the content specialist for elementary visual art for the entire system.
She said she became a teacher because she loves learning and enjoys passing her knowledge on to her students.
Greene earned her bachelor's degree in art education from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and a master's degree in education with a specialization in technology integration from Walden University in 2010. She uses that training as East Newton's technology teacher leader.
She is involved in several community efforts, including a job shadowing program for eighth graders, the Newton County Arts Association and the Georgia Wildlife Federation, where she designs gardens and outdoor classrooms.
She's been a teacher for 21 years.
When school officials walked into his classroom to congratulate him, Lewis responded witha look of skepticism, but slowly let the façade fade away.
Lewis has taught at Live Oak Elementary School for the past two years, spending the two years before that at West Newton Elementary. He's been a teacher for 15 total years.
He earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in special education from the University of New Orleans He earned his education specialist degree in educational leadership from Liberty University in 2010 and is working on a doctorate.
He is a strong believer in tutoring and supports children outside of the home, even going to his students' homes to help with discipline, homework and other needs.
"It's overwhelming," Lewis said asked how he felt about receiving the honor. "I don't do it for the recognition; this is my way of giving back."
Robinson was in the process of teaching a bunch of nerds - it was nerd theme day - when he received the surprise visit from officials.
Robinson's been teaching for 12 years, including teaching social studies at Newton High School since 2001. His current classes included economics and advanced placement macroeconomics.
He earned his bachelor's degree in social science education from Georgia State University and a master's in the same field from the University of Georgia. He is currently working on an education specialist degree in learning.
Robinson is also Newton High School's cross country coach and won region cross country coach of the year in 2000, 2001 and 2010. He is also a teacher mentor and founder of the school's mock trial program.
A native of Newton County, he supports local organizations such as the Covington Y, Salvation Army and United Way.
Having grown up in a family of teachers, Robinson said he was proud to carry on the tradition and said he enjoys constantly learning something new and interesting.
The three teachers were visited by deputy superintendent Dennis Carpenter; Ken Proctor, executive director of elementary education; Samantha Fuhrey, executive director for secondary education; business manager Peggy Bullard; Sherri Davis-Viniard, director of public relations; and school board members Jeff Meadors and Shakila Henderson-Baker.
"We're very proud of the work they do and we know they will represent their school and the system well," Fuhrey said. "They're good folks and good teachers."
Each of the finalists will receive crystal vases at the awards ceremony, while the winner will receive one dozen roses, a commemorative ring from Herff-Jones and a check for $1,000 from the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. The winner will also represent Newton County in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.