School level Teachers of the Year named (Sept. 15, 2011)
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Three Rockdale County Public Schools teacher had a Friday surprise as a caravan of school administrators dropped by their classrooms to announce the finalists for Teacher of the Year in Rockdale County.
Marion Hanahan, Heritage High School
“Wow, I’m overwhelmed,” said Heritage High School social studies and U.S. History teacher Marion Hanahan as administrators and cameras poured into his classroom. He said he was inspired not by the subject matter, but by his students.
“It’s these guys,” he said pointing at his students. “It’s the difference I can make in their lives.”
The 30-year-old University of Alabama alum has been teaching seven years, four at Heritage and three at Salem.
Teaching excellence runs in the family. Hanahan’s mother Peggy, a 36-year education veteran who teaches U.S. History, was named Heritage's Teacher of the Year last year.
She said she was so proud to hear of her son’s honor. “I was moved to tears.”
“When he went to college, I was surprised when he chose education. Not unhappy, but surprised,” said Peggy Hanahan. “He wants to make a difference.”
She admitted it could get competitive. “He’s so good. He’s so creative. He’s set the bar pretty high for US history teachers.”
HHS Principal Greg Fowler agreed. “He has a gift. He could teach anything.”
Don Swaney, Rockdale County High School
Don Swaney, a Learning Specialist who gives additional support to struggling students, was administering a test in the media center Friday morning, so the caravan pulled him out into the hallway instead.
Swaney, a 1985 graduate of Rockdale County High School, humbly accepted the accolades with a grin. “I like teaching,” he said. “This is what I was meant to do.”
During his previous career as a management consultant, he was able to help people improve but didn't enjoy traveling away from his family.
“The part I liked the most about that was helping people succeed, so I decided to become a teacher.”
Ninth grade administrator Kevin Rogers said “One of the things Mr. Swaney brings to teaching is he’s exciting. He also is just a hard worker. He’s constantly full of energy trying to think of new innovative ways to bring stuff into the classroom for the kids.”
“He really cares about these students. And the kids know it.”
Swaney enlisted in the Navy after high school and attended Georgia State University for this Bachelor’s degree. His wife Samantha Swaney also is a teacher at Heritage High School, and their 20-year-old son attends Gainesville Community College.
Dianne Hall, JH House Elementary
The last stop for the Teacher of the Year notifications was in Dianne Hall’s fourth grade classroom.
Hall, a veteran teacher with 30 years of experience, four of those at RCPS, was left open mouthed with surprise and joy as well-wishers streamed into her classroom.
“Oh my word!” she said, laughing.
“I feel very honored and privileged to be able to teach in Rockdale and to touch the lives of these children,” she said.
“Look at the faces of these children. That is the best part of the job!”
Hall, who grew up in Decatur and lives in Walton County, said she knew as a middle school student, after reading to a kindergarten class, that she wanted to teach.
JH House Assistant Principal Janie Ross said, “She’ll do anything to help the children learn.”
“I taught across the hall from her. The kids were always excited to come to school. I don’t know how she taught with all the energy she put forth every day. Every child I’ve seen in her classroom just loves her. She teaches students who don’t always excel… but when they come out of her classroom, they are excelling.”
Hall went to West Georgia College. She and her husband of 31 years Terry have a 26-year-old son.
The Teacher of the Year for Rockdale County will be announced in a ceremony on Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Rockdale Career Academy.