The 2008 Georgia Teacher of the Year contest was a loss for McDuffie County, and that was a gain according to one school official.
Emily Jennette, a second grade teacher from Marietta City Schools, was named the 2008 TOTY at a banquet held at the Georgia Aquarium on March 29. Thomson High School Healthcare Science Technology teacher Robin Dudley was one of the 10 finalists for the state award.
The state winner, chosen from 147 teachers who are TOTY for their local school district, will take a one-year sabbatical to serve as an advocate and educational ambassador throughout the state.
"So it was kind of like we burst a bubble and it was deflated, but the way we look at it is it was a loss for Georgia because she would do a great job representing Georgia. ... But of course, it was a win for our school system because she is not going to be gone next year," said Beth Newton, the Federal Programs Director for the McDuffie Board of Education.
Mrs. Dudley was named the county TOTY in October and found out in January that she was a finalist for the state. As part of the application process, Mrs. Dudley had to answer eight essay questions concerning philosophies of teaching, which were reviewed by a panel of 20 educators, business and community leaders and members of the Georgia Department of Education. In February, a separate panel of judges visited each of the finalists' classrooms to observe their teaching technique and conduct interviews. The final step in the selection process was a speech given by each of the finalists at a luncheon held in Atlanta.
"It's been a real growing experience for me," Mrs. Dudley said. "I got to evaluate myself as a teacher, as an individual and as a member of my community. ... Had I not had this experience, I would not have been given the chance to seriously think about who I am ... and what I'd like to do with students and the differences I'd like to make."
Mrs. Dudley attended the final banquet with her husband, Mike, and his brother, her parents, McDuffie County School officials, two fellow teachers and three former students.
Because the subject she teaches is vocational and she has her students for more than one year, Mrs. Dudley said her students had mixed emotions about the possibility of her winning the state award and taking a sabbatical. She said telephone text messages were exchanged with her students and those accompanying her throughout the banquet to find out the final outcome as soon as it was announced. Since then, Mrs. Dudley said she has been receiving text messages from students reassuring her that she is their Teacher of the Year, even if she isn't the state's.
"They are just excited that I am going to be back," Mrs. Dudley said. "I feel like I've been able to represent McDuffie County and my school and my parents and my students well, regardless of whether I won an award or not."
She did not go home empty-handed, however. Mrs. Dudley said as a finalist, she received two free plane tickets to anywhere in the United States, a laptop computer, $200 and a rug.
But it is the support from her community that she considers priceless.
"Not everybody feels the family within the community that we get to feel in McDuffie County," she said. "This has been a community effort, and the people that have been involved in it are too many to name... I just don't think that's the way it is everywhere. ... It was such a warm and loving feeling to know that so many people were behind me and a part of the process."