Holly Goble has volunteered at each of the schools her three children have attended. Of the teachers she's come in contact with in the past 15 years, she says Goshen Elementary's Jennifer White is the best.
"If you are lucky, you get a classroom teacher that really stands out," said Mrs. Goble, whose 9-year-old daughter attends Goshen. "This is the first one I have felt really good about. She's enthusiastic, and there's never a lull in her classroom. You can tell that she tries really hard to get the information into the kids."
Ms. White's efforts are not going unnoticed. Richmond County school officials will recognize her tonight as a finalist for Teacher of the Year.
She and four other Richmond County teachers were chosen by school officials from a list of the county's 58 star teachers. The winner will be chosen tonight at a banquet at 7 at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta. The current teacher of the year is Julie Purvis, a math teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet school.
The four other finalists are Rosita Alston-Grissom, a math teacher at Glenn Hills High School; Judith Mealing, a chemistry and biology teacher at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School; Carol Scharff, a third-grade teacher at Barton Chapel Elementary; and Nmaobi Uzochukwu, a physical science and physics teacher at Westside High School.
Ms. White, a 27-year-old Lakeside High graduate, said her love of teaching stems from growing up doing activities that included children.
"I have always enjoyed being around kids," Ms. White said. "I was the oldest of eight cousins, and I always enjoyed that role of looking out for the kids. I taught swimming lessons; I was a lifeguard at a pool. I have always been in positions where I've been around kids. And, I had incredible teachers who motivated me. They were role models to me, and I've wanted to aspire to do what they do."
When she finished her bachelor of arts degree in early childhood education, she applied for a job at Goshen Elementary School.
"When I interviewed at Goshen, met the principal and other teachers, I knew this was the place for me," she said. "I have a very supportive network of colleagues here. I had a good feeling about this school."
And her pupils have a good feeling about her.
"She has a nice voice, and we don't get too much homework, and we have parties sometimes and watch TV sometimes," said David Neumann, one of her 23 fourth-graders.
On a recent Monday morning, Ms. White taught her class a lesson about the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its impact on the community.
As they read about the 1989 spill that spewed 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, Ms. White asked pupils questions about how they would have handled tasks such as taking care of the sea otters.
They also listened to a tape about the spill and answered questions to see how well they paid attention.
As she explained the lesson, she asked the pupils, "Do you catch my drift?"
They responded by clapping once that they understood.
She said the "catch-my-drift" response is a way to make learning enjoyable.
"When students leave here, I want them to know that learning is fun," Ms. White said. "Academics are important, but I hope when they leave my classroom they have a better sense of themselves and more self-confidence and enjoy learning.
"I want my kids to do their best," she said. "I have high expectations of them, whether it's academics or behavior."
She tries to go steps beyond what is required of her.
For example, when she read to her class James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, she brought peaches to class. Several pupils told her they had never tasted a peach or looked at the inside of a peach.
In addition to bringing peaches, each week she sends a newsletter to parents telling them what the pupils are working on and how they behaved, and informs them of any upcoming tests.
She also encourages the pupils by choosing a star every week. Ms. White displays letters from parents explaining why their child should be nominated and compliments from their peers on why they think the pupil is "out of this world."
"It just makes them feel really special," she said.
Ms. White said her teaching technique is part of her belief in the school's motto - "To teach and reach each Goshen peach."
Her principal, Lisa Annis, said Ms. White does an exemplary job of reaching her pupils.
"The thing that's most distinguished about her is she's enthusiastic, creative, supportive," Dr. Annis said. "All the good adjectives that you can use to describe someone who cares for kids."
Ms. White said her nomination as a Teacher of the Year finalist is overwhelming.
"It's been very exciting," she said. "When my principal told me, I was so excited and felt so honored. It was a big enough honor to have the colleagues at my school nominate me, then to have been chosen from my school was the greatest compliment that I could receive."
Each year she continues to teach, Ms. White said, she hopes to grow in her teaching techniques.
"It's an ongoing experience," she said. "Teachers have to change with the time. The more excited teachers are about teaching, the more excited students are about learning."
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.
Family: Fiance, Hank Roper
Education: Bachelor of arts in early childhood education from Georgia Southern University
Years teaching: Five, all at Goshen Elementary
Honors: Sallie Mae award for outstanding teaching ability, 1995; Character and Citizenship awards from Goshen Elementary
Hobbies: Exercising and going to the beach with her family
Motto: "My motto in teaching is for the kids to reach for the stars."
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