Never forget your audience.
That was a friend's advice to Malinda Graham when she became a teacher.
Don't forget what it was like to be a student, the friend said. In your classroom, post a picture of yourself when you were the same age as your students.
"This way, you'll remember what it felt like to be in their seats," said Ms. Graham, a language arts teacher at T.W. Josey High School.
Ms. Graham is one of five finalists for Richmond County Teacher of the Year, an honor that will be announced during a banquet at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The other four finalists had their own advice for teachers.
Choose your battles wisely and be consistent in the classroom, said David Bradberry, a history teacher at Cross Creek High School. Being prepared is the best way to avoid discipline problems, he said.
"There is nothing wrong with enforcing rules and discipline, but students appreciate people who are nice to them and who can adjust accordingly to various situations," he said.
Have a contingency plan for unexpected occurrences, said Connie Blanchard , a kindergarten teacher at Joseph R. Lamar Elementary School.
"Being prepared involves having plans and materials in place, but it also includes being flexible and able to modify the lesson as feedback is received from the students," she said.
Sandra Thomas remembers some advice from a teacher who happened to be her grandmother: Always get to know pupils and parents before viewing any prior information. Don't place limits on them, said Ms. Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at A. Brian Merry Elementary School.
"After numerous weeks have gone by and you have established ground with the student and the parents, then look at the records," she said.
"This will give students and parents a chance to get to know you and you to know them."
Tami Corley recommends teachers establish a support network. She depends on her husband, parents, in-laws and co-workers to help her and listen to her many challenges as a fifth-grade teacher at Glenn Hills Elementary School.
The finalists found different paths to the teaching profession.
Mrs. Blanchard followed in the footsteps of her mother, aunts and uncles.
She started out as a music teacher but couldn't develop close relationships because she met with pupils only 30 minutes a week.
She returned to school and obtained a graduate degree in early childhood education. "I have taught kindergarten for 16 years now and have enjoyed watching my students grow into mature young adults with bright futures," she said.
Ms. Thomas was a child who couldn't sit still and pay attention, but a third-grade teacher treated her with love and understanding. Ms. Thomas eventually would be diagnosed with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Her childhood teacher gave Ms. Thomas the skills to direct her energy toward learning.
For Mrs. Corley, it was the influence of her great-grandmother.
"I remember, every Fourth of July, she would pull out a box and tell the family stories of immigration to the United States and how important education was to the family's survival," Mrs. Corley said.
Mr. Bradberry's entire family had a teaching background, so it was a natural fit for him. But the history teacher has seen changes over the years, especially in the technology available in the classroom.
"Powerpoint! No more days of coming home covered in yellow chalk. No more days of your arm cramping from writing and erasing and writing," he said. "Now lessons can be edited and improved upon, and graphics are readily available to make lessons visually appealing."
Ms. Graham said teaching methods might be different, but the basics are the same.
"The wrapper may have changed a bit, and students may need more pizzazz than they used to, but the bottom line has not changed," she said. "Children still need love, respect and knowledge."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.