Last month, Robin Dudley was named one of the ten finalists out of 147 districts for the Georgia Teacher of the Year. Last week, the second stage of the countdown took place when a panel of judges visited the Thomson High School Healthcare Science Technology teacher's classroom to observe her teaching techniques.
"During the course of the team sitting in her class ... it became apparent real quickly that they were most impressed with the variety of strategies and integration of technology and the classroom routines that are clearly established," said Barry O'Neill, the McDuffie County Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. "They knew they weren't seeing a dog and pony show that somebody can see one time; but, what they were seeing was a most impressive, normal day in the class of Robin Dudley."
Mrs. Dudley was named McDuffie County's Teacher of the Year last October. In January, she was chosen to be in the top 10 by a panel of judges from across the state who read her biography and essay responses to eight questions ranging from personal teaching philosophy to the issues facing education.
It was a different panel of judges who visited her classroom on Wednesday, Feb. 21, and Mrs. Dudley said this group had no prior knowledge of her except her name and the subject she taught. Included in the group was last year's state Teacher of the Year, Pam Walker.
"When Pam Walker herself, who a panel last year thought she was the best thing they'd seen... came out with jaw dropped and she said 'this is awesome,'... then that is a pretty good sign," Dr. O'Neill said.
Mrs. Dudley said she also interpreted positive impressions from the judges.
"When they walked in, I read body language pretty easily, and they were quite amazed by the visual picture that they saw," she said.
The judges watched as Mrs. Dudley ended a surgical unit with her students and held a mock operation, an open choleocystectomy, on "patients," which Mrs. Dudley said "were either bananas, zucchini squash or a drumstick."
"I used to teach anatomy and physiology as a high school teacher, which is what she does, and watching her, my head just hangs down in guilt," Dr. O'Neill said. "Some of my students thought I was a good teacher, but they've just never seen Robin Dudley."
During the lesson, Mrs. Dudley said the judges walked up and down the aisles and interviewed the students, asking if the activity was a typical one. After the lesson, they interviewed five of the students on video. Mrs. Dudley said she is "so pleased with how my students responded." Following the lesson, the judges interviewed Mrs. Dudley, and she was ready.
"Well, typical Robin, she was just over prepared. She had five of her friends do a mock interview before she had the real interview with the team there," Dr. O'Neill said.
Dr. O'Neill said after the classroom visits, the 10 finalists will be narrowed down to five. Then, the third and final stage of eliminations will be at a luncheon held in Atlanta on March 9 when each of the 10 will give a three-minute speech on a given subject. A different set of judges, who already know the five finalists, will further narrow down the list to determine the Georgia Teacher of the Year, to be announced at a banquet in Atlanta on March 29.
"We don't have any concerns about how she'll do on this speech. She's very passionate about her profession," Dr. O'Neill said. "It's a treat to be in her class, and the students know it. We need to clone her, there's just a waiting list for her class. We can't give them all what they want because there's just one Robin Dudley."