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Teacher of the year finalists announced
TOTY finalist Susan Gary classroom door IMG 1048
School officials enter the classroom of Rockdale Magnet School teacher and Teacher of the Year finalist Susan Gary, who requested not to be photographed.

The Tuesday after a week-long break can be hard to get through sometimes, but for three Rockdale County Public Schools teachers, Tuesday morning was full of pleasant surprises as they were named finalists for the county's Teacher of the Year.

One by one, the teachers were caught mid-lesson, mid-sentence and off-guard as school officials, administrators and Superintendent Dr. Samuel King streamed into their classrooms to recognize them as finalists.

Rockdale Magnet School environmental sciences teacher Susan Gary accepted the hugs of congratulations with shaking hands and said the honor left her speechless, which didn't happen very often.

Caroline Ingle, a ninth grade teacher at Heritage High School and a part of the state-program Project Success, said the first thing that flew into her mind as the administrators came in was "I look a hot mess!" The exuberant Conyers native and third-generation teacher explained she had dressed up in bright blue eyeshadow, matching bandana and matching dress for "Tacky Day" as part of the school's spirit week. The teachers in her team had decided to poke a little fun at her students by dressing like them. 

At Hightower Elementary, Gretchen Gault was in the middle of an economics lesson with her fourth grade class when the lights were suddenly turned back on and officials came in with an armful of flowers. Unbeknownst to her, a few of her students had been planted with video cameras to capture the moment of shock and emotion. Gault said she had spent 17 years out of her 18-year teaching career at Hightower Elementary because of the family and group-oriented atmosphere.

The winner of the county's Teacher of the Year distinction will not be announced until the ceremony in December - a slight change from previous years - and each teacher and each teacher's principal will have to prepare an acceptance speech ahead of time.