Lynda Jackson wants to make the type of impression on her students that her teachers made on her.
When she was growing up in LaGrange, Ga., the classroom style of Mrs. Jackson's first-grade teacher and one of her high school teachers never left her memory.
"Mrs. Slade was very nurturing and made us all feel like we were the most important child in the classroom," Mrs. Jackson recalled of her elementary school teacher. "She would hug us and she started me on something that I have a passion for now -- reading. She was the first teacher I met and had the longest, lasting impression."
Mrs. Jackson has parlayed that impression into a 27-year teaching career. Fourteen of those years have been spent as a vocational teacher at Richmond County's Alternative School -- a school for students who have been chronically disruptive at their zoned school.
Mrs. Jackson's stern, down-to-earth tempo is one reason her peers nominated her as Teacher of the Year. She and four other teachers are finalists for Richmond County Teacher of the Year.
The winner will be announced at 7 p.m. Thursday during the Teacher of the Year banquet at Radisson Riverfront Hotel.
Other finalists are Lisa Griffin Arnold, a science teacher at Academy of Richmond County High; Julie Vernon Purvis, a math teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School; Joyce Miller, a business education teacher at A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering Magnet School; and Carlyn G. Morris, a kindergarten teacher at Jamestown Elementary.
They beat out 51 other nominees. The winner will take over the position held by Melinda Starnes, a third-grade teacher at Garrett Elementary school.
Mrs. Jackson said her high school social studies teacher, Louis Bell, impressed her with his animated gestures and his constant movement through the classroom.
The influence of Mrs. Jackson's mentors crops up in her own classroom style.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Mrs. Jackson was teaching one group of students in her coordinated vocational academic education class how to write checks while another group compiled resumes on a computer.
Like Mr. Bell, Mrs. Jackson constantly moved between the groups, checking one's work when she wasn't working with the other, talking in a tone that was conversational instead of lecturing.
Like Mrs. Slade, she encouraged the students.
Her first- and second-period classes ran smoothly, but three students in the third period wanted to do their own thing. One student complained of being sleepy and wanted to put his head on his desk. Another slouched in his chair even after being told to sit up and concentrate. A new student sat in class with a mad-at-the-world look on his face and mumbled a few curse words.
When the bell rang, the three picked up their books to proceed to lunch, but Mrs. Jackson kept them after class.
"There are certain things I cannot tolerate," she told the three boys in a stern voice. "I will do my level best to work with you, but there are certain things I'm not dealing with."
She turned to the new student.
"There is never a reason why you should curse," she told him. He responded with a meaningful, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Jackson."
"You come in here and you're automatically mad and angry," she said. "What is that about? You don't know me. I asked how you're doing and you're rolling your eyes and snatching your paper."
The student said he was upset about having to spend a year at the alternative school.
"This school might be the best thing that ever happened to you," Mrs. Jackson told the trio. "Let me tell you why: Your grades are going to get better and you're not going to get in any trouble because people like me are going to dog you until you do your lesson. When you do something wrong, we're going to tell you. So let's do this as a team."
A similar speech worked last semester for Brian Harvey, a 10th-grader who returned this week to his home school, Cross Creek High.
"Mrs. Jackson helped me realize that I need to do good in school," Brian said during his last few days at the alternative school. "She was straight up with me. She said it will hurt me later in life if I don't."
Brian is one reason Mrs. Jackson says her 14 years at the alternative school have been worthwhile.
"You try to get them to understand this is not the end of the road, that this is a beginning," Mrs. Jackson said. "You try to make them aware of the positive things that will happen while they are here and if you have the chance, you talk to them one-on-one to gradually ease them into it. And you never give up on them."
Winnette Bradley, principal of Richmond County Alternative School, said Mrs. Jackson demonstrates the qualities that principals look for in teachers who work with disruptive students.
"She has high expectations of the students and insists they measure up," Mrs. Bradley said. "Generally, students dislike teachers who set and hold them to high standards. They want to say the teacher doesn't like them when in fact, the teacher (shows she) likes them by holding them to high standards. I wish all teachers who are having difficulty managing disruptive behavior in class could have the opportunity to observe Mrs. Jackson in action."
Teacher: Lynda C. Jackson
Family: Daughter Lauren, 16, junior at A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering High School.
Degree: Bachelor of science in physical education from Texas College in Tyler. Vocational certification at Georgia Southern University
Motto: "Just do it! Forget about all the reasons you can't succeed and focus on the reasons you will succeed."
Years teaching: 27 years, including 14 at Richmond County Alternative School. First year in Sandersville, Ga. Other years spent in various Richmond County schools.
Hobbies: Reading, working on computers and gardening.
Five Richmond County teachers are finalists for Teach of the Year. The winner will be announced at 7 p.m. Thursday at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta. Today is the first in a five-part series profiling the finalists
Sunday: Carylin G. Morris, Jamestown Elementary School
Monday: Lisa Griffin Arnold, Academy of Richmond County High School
Tuesday: Julie Vernon Purvis, John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School
Today: Lynda C. Jackson, The Alternative School
Thursday: Joyce Miller, A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering Magnet School