Though the weather was gloomy Friday morning, three Newton County teachers received some news that made their days decidedly brighter. They were surprised in their classrooms with the announcement that they were the top three finalists for Newton County's 2009 Teacher of the Year.
Alicia Stewart was the first teacher to be notified at Mansfield Elementary School where Principal G.W. Davis made an excuse to keep the Quest teacher there instead of allowing her to go to Palmer-Stone where she was supposed to be when a convoy of school system officials, as well as her family, converged on her classroom.
"This is so surreal," Stewart said. "It can't be me - I'm just shaking all over. I don't think it has sunk in yet," she continued. "When everyone leaves it will."
In an essay prepared for the TOTY competition Stewart said her mother was a huge influence in her life and in her decision to become a teacher.
"Life isn't about how much money you make," she wrote. "It is about making a difference in the world and empowering others... Sometimes the greatest teachers aren't found in schools... my most impressionable teacher was at home."
She began her teaching career in 1986 after earning her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education.
She went on to get a Master of Science and she is gifted endorsed.
According to Davis, Stewart is extremely deserving of the honor.
"Lisa Stewart is the kind of teacher every principal wants as an employee, every parent wants their child to have and every student remembers," he said.
Bart Buff was interrupted during a geography lesson at Eastside High School by his wife Shannon and 7-year-old son Braxton. As the students applauded their teacher, Buff shook Newton County School Superintendent Dr. Steven Whatley's hand and appeared stunned as he took in everything.
"Wow," he said, as one student in the class yelled, "We love you Buff!" As Buff's accomplishment was announced over the intercom, students in the adjoining classroom began pounding on the wall of the classroom to congratulate the teacher.
"This affirms what I'm doing, which is really nice to have that positive response," Buff said. "On the other hand, it makes me feel a little sad because there are so many excellent teachers out there and everybody cannot be recognized every year and they should be."
He began his teaching career at EHS in 2002 after completing his BS degree. He has also completed all requirements for his Master's in Educational Leadership and is currently enrolled in a specialist's program. He is also gifted certified. He currently teaches Quest Government and Advanced Placement U.S. History.
"Teaching, to me, is a lot like playing golf," Buff wrote in his essay. "I will never perfect either, but I sure enjoy the pursuit."
Dr. Robert Daria, principal of EHS, said "I believe we try to find the very best for our students and I think that is directly illustrated by teachers like Mr. Buff. He is a good, high-quality teacher."
When Cousins Middle School Band Director Christine Kraemer was accosted in her classroom she immediately started to cry and shake, saying "Oh my gosh, oh boy," and shaking so hard she had to put down her vase of flowers.
"I'm a little shaky," she said laughing and hugging her family. "I think I'm going to have to sit down."
The announcement of Kraemer as one of the top three finalist caused an uproar in the surrounding classrooms, which only made Kraemer shake a little harder and tear up a bit more.
"I am rewarded by seeing students' eyes light up when they understand a concept and are able to apply that concept to something new... the rewards we receive from this profession are mostly from small victories... this joy we receive comes through the realization that these students are doing things they could not do before and are doing them well."
She received her degree in Music Education in 1996 and her Master in Music Education
as well as a Master in Music Performance in conducting.
"Ms. Kraemer is the epitome of professionalism," said Principal Scott Sauls. "She not only helps with the students but with the staff as well. She is very deserving of this honor and the fact that her colleagues recognize her accomplishments and now, at a system level she is recognized as well, is wonderful. She is truly deserving."
The reception for TOTY will be held at 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Newton High School. The winner will receive a crystal vase, three month's free car rental from Covington Ford, a Teacher of the Year ring from Herrf-Jones and a check for $1,000. The winner will also go on to represent Newton County in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.