CARROLLTON, GA – A pandemic may have delayed the traditional spring reveal of who would serve as school-level Teachers of the Year in 2020-2021, but in August the announcements were made – Natalie Wiggins, Carrollton Elementary School; Tiffany Pullen, Carrollton Upper Elementary; Regina Hytower, Carrollton Junior High; and Chris Carr, Carrollton High School. The four now compete for the title of district Teacher of the Year to be announced at the Carrollton Board of Education monthly meeting Nov. 10.
In preparation for the district competition, Teachers of the Year were asked to write essays outlining their decisions to pursue this noble profession. Below are some excerpts:
NATALIE WIGGINS – Carrollton Elementary
Growing up as a military child, I was used to constant change having to move every two-to-three years. I was always having to adjust to new places and new people. In fact, one of my “interesting facts” I always share with my new students and families at the beginning of the year is that I attended 10 different schools K-12.
The one thing that remained constant, though, was that I always felt comfortable and felt like I belonged at school. School was my constant in a childhood of change. It was a sanctuary where I got to make friends, play on sports teams, and take advantage of so many opportunities to learn from many amazing educators.
My first educator plan actually was to become a physical education teacher, but there was definitely an itch and desire to be in the general education classroom. I ended up changing my major to elementary education.
Being a first grade teacher, I get a chance at an early stage in a child’s education to help instill a love of learning and a love for school. I believe that I have helped students feel excited about school with a positive learning environment where they ALL feel welcome and want to come back each and every day. I love to build up my students’ self-esteem with reaffirming praise and compliments in my classroom. I want for them all to feel cared for and noticed. I believe that kids learn best when they feel loved.
Treating my students and families with respect and kindness has helped create better communication, engagement, and appreciation for the achievement that the students put in each day. Of course I love the incredible teaching moments where light bulbs turn on that aren’t on the wall, but some of my favorite days at school are when I get to see former students/parents and we excitedly exchange greetings. I would like to think that many incredible academic achievements have taken place in my classroom, but nothing compares to the relationships that I have formed with my students, their families, and my co-workers. This is my greatest and most lasting accomplishment that I am most proud of.
TIFFANY PULLEN – Carrollton Upper Elementary
I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a teacher. I didn’t gather the neighborhood kids and play school with old textbooks. I did not choose teaching; it chose me. The path that led me here was different from most of my colleagues, but it formed me into a teacher with a heart to serve.
After graduating from the University of West Georgia with a business management degree, I chose a career with a public safety agency. Over time, my position evolved and included training employees on a database system that was used for state and federal reporting purposes. This new role helped me see that I had a knack for teaching and a passion to see others succeed. At the time, I didn’t feel as though I was making a worthwhile impact, so I made the naive decision to become a teacher, thinking “how hard can it be?”. Little did I know that I had entered the toughest, most thankless job that would end up bringing me more joy and fulfillment that I could have ever imagined.
Nothing comes close to the feeling of knowing you helped a student. Seeing a kid’s eyes light up in response to understanding drives my excitement for teaching each day. But more important, knowing that I have the opportunity to impact beyond the classroom seals my decision to push forward.
As an effective teacher, I recognize that I have a special opportunity to serve my students and their families beyond the classroom by attending sporting events and student productions.
Even though I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a teacher, I have no regret – no second guessing – on my decision to become one. In my classroom, I have found my sense of purpose.
REGINA HYTOWER – Carrollton Junior High School
The moment I stepped into the classroom I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Before that, I didn’t want to be a classroom teacher. Ever since I was a little girl I was told by my mother and several others, some of whom were teachers, that I was going to be a teacher. I shrugged it off because I knew that it was definitely not what I wanted to do. I didn’t like kids. I wanted to make more money. I was tired of the classes, the bells, the getting up early in the morning, and doing school work. I never imagined that after so many years of being a student I would volunteer to continue going to school as a teacher.
I received my undergraduate degree in Public Relations. However, after graduation, I discovered that I was about to be a mother. My mother suggested I apply for a teaching position. Reluctantly, I did, expecting to be turned down. To my surprise, I was told by my first principal there was something about me and he would allow me to teach as long as I went back to school to become certified. I stepped into the classroom with students, and I knew it was my calling. I felt at home.
My students have taught me what it means to love unconditionally, serve passionately, and have fun relentlessly. They are the most effective professional development course I could ever take.
A major accomplishment of mine was creating a curriculum for a class specifically focusing on students who have the potential for growth, but haven’t been able to produce results consistently. In the past two years, I have seen the average student in my class grow an entire grade level in five months. Due to the methods used in this class, there has been an increase in minority students in advanced classes at our school, and the class has become highly requested by students and parents.
Becoming a teacher was the best decision I have ever made. The students have helped me grow as a teacher and as a person. Best job on the planet!
CHRIS CARR – Carrollton High School
I became a teacher because I have a passion for learning and helping others. I think of many mentors throughout my life who embody the teacher I wish to be, and I try my best to be that teacher for my students. One is my stepfather John. I am thankful for the selfless example he provided and the work ethic that he demonstrated for us. It is his love, loyalty, and determination through times of adversity that I hope to provide for my students every day.
Another was my little league coach, Johnny Shoemake. He helped me grow from a batter who always jumped out of the box from fear of being hit by a pitch, to the member of my high school baseball team who earned the highest batting average his junior year. His encouragement, compassion, expectation, and determination are what I hope to provide my students every day.
At Jonesboro High, Band Director Kerry Bryant encouraged me to audition for drum major but he took another job before the auditions. I still attended a summer leadership camp at the University of Georgia to prepare as a drum major and I met two mentors who continue to provide professional guidance to me today. Eric Willoughby organized the leadership camp and Josh Byrd served as an instructor since he was a UGA drum major at the time. Fate brought us back together as colleagues. Eric is now a Fine Arts administrator at Woodland High School and Josh is the Director of Bands at the University of West Georgia. I am eternally grateful for their camaraderie.
I believe that my greatest contribution to education has yet to come, but one contribution that I am very proud of is surrounding myself with other master teachers. We have a very talented, dedicated, and compassionate team of band directors who strive to do right by kids daily and I am honored to be a part of it!
It is an honor to have the opportunity to serve a community that my wife and I are proud to call home.