Since July, Andy Baumgartner has broadcast his philosophy on education at 158 seminars and workshops across the state.
His message to teachers and administrators -- make education fun and don't value a school system, its students or teachers by test scores.
Mr. Baumgartner, Georgia's 1999 Teacher of the Year, will share his convictions with a national selection committee in March, as the committee prepares to select the 1999 National Teacher of the Year.
Mr. Baumgartner, along with three other finalists, beat out educators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Department of Defense Education Activity.
"This is incredible," Mr. Baumgartner said of the recognition. "It's amazing and one of the most wonderful things that's ever happened to me."
As state teacher of the year, he's taking the year off from teaching kindergarten at A. Brian Merry Elementary School to serve as ambassador for education in Georgia.
During his speeches, Mr. Baumgartner tells his audiences what's worked in his classroom.
"We have to remember that we don't teach books, we don't teach programs and we don't teach tests," Mr. Baumgartner said. "We teach children.
"It's our obligation to turn a light on in our classroom and excite them about learning," he said.
Mr. Baumgartner said he's also learned a few things from teachers he's encountered across the state.
"Georgia is an amazing place for educational opportunities for both teachers and students," he said. "There is a work force of teachers in Georgia that is incredibly enthusiastic and energetic and hard-working."
Mr. Baumgartner said his interview with the national selection committee -- made of 15 members from national education organizations -- will depend on the questions they ask, but he said he will make sure his platform is known.
In addition to making sure learning is fun, he wants to see classroom sizes decrease so that teachers can meet the needs of all students.
"I'm also hoping my position will encourage more males to go into teaching of young children," he said. "Many young children are in desperate need of quality, affectionate relationships between themselves and another male."
Mr. Baumgartner, a 23-year teaching veteran, learned when he was 20 that he wanted to teach.
"I got the opportunity in high school, then it became solid in college, to work in a school for mentally challenged children," he said. "There's something very intoxicating about children showing an appreciation for you when you walk in a room; and to watch someone achieve a goal is an exhilarating, victorious kind of experience."
If he wins the award, Mr. Baumgartner said he'll probably do more of what he's doing right now -- spreading the message about education.
"Teachers go into the field with a great deal of idealism and a desire to make a difference in the world," he said. "But I think they too often find themselves in classrooms where there are too many students or too few materials or too little technology or not enough support either from the parents, administration or community, and they find themselves floundering.
Beverly Arnold, principal at A. Brian Merry Elementary, said Mr. Baumgartner's nomination is bittersweet.
"It's a fabulous honor, and I know he's able to win the award," Mrs. Arnold said. "He does an outstanding job, and he's proven that as ambassador for Georgia, and I think he would do an excellent job as ambassador for the United States."
But, "we definitely want him back here with the children," she said. "The children who go through his class are very lucky indeed."
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