For the second year, the Columbia County Board of Education will honor the school system’s most dynamic first-year teacher. This year, two of the three finalists for Rookie of the Year are Augusta University graduates Beth Burgess (B.S.Ed., 2018) and Amanda Woods (B.S.Ed., 2019).
Dr. Kristy Brown, director of assessment and accreditation, worked with both of these talented alumni, and said their successes come from the drive to have relationships with their students. Relationships between students and teachers who are passionate about their work will always be the foundation of a successful classroom.
“I think what sets them apart is that they build off of the students’ assets to drive their instruction. They make learning personal, relevant and meaningful for each student,” Brown said. “They are both driven by passion and engage with students every day. Their positive attitude makes their schools better.”
For Burgess and Woods, teaching was always their goal. Burgess says she knew by her fourth-grade year in Franklin, Georgia, that she wanted to devote her life to teaching. And Woods said while growing up in Grapevine, Texas, she always knew she’d be a teacher. But she first served in the U.S. Navy.
Now Burgess teaches fourth grade at Grovetown Elementary School, Woods teaches sixth grade at Grovetown Middle School, and both credit the faculty at Augusta University for their first-year success.
“I was just thinking the other day about how great the education program was. I didn’t realize how well I was being prepared. Sometimes I would think, ‘This is so extra. We’re never going to have to do this.’ But, no, we’ve had to do everything they asked of us and it really paid off. I’m so glad for AU’s program,” Burgess said.
She said she saw other new teachers have to learn certain things on the job, but she never struggled with things like creating lesson plans and station rotations. That allowed her to focus on mastering other skills and seeking mentoring.
For Woods, her relationships with her faculty made the biggest impact.
“The faculty really nurtured my go-getter nature and made me realize that it’s OK to set high goals and high aims for myself and to work toward achieving them and ignore the nay-sayers,” Woods said. “I’m so glad that I went to AU because it’s different than larger schools in that you really do get that rapport with the professors and they help you grow in more ways than just education. It’s so nurturing.”
Training pays off
Dr. Kim Barker, professor of education, said that is exactly the way the faculty have designed the program: to nurture pre-service teachers and to help them grow into difference-makers for students of all backgrounds.
“I think our teachers go out into the field having had a wealth and variety of rich, interconnected field experiences and they are exceptionally well prepared for the classroom,” Barker said. “We really work hard to tie content and theory to practice. Our candidates graduate ready to teach.”
But good preparation isn’t enough. Excellence in instruction still depends on a principled work ethic within the individual teacher. The drive to put in the labor to create a classroom environment where all students can learn is a standard that cannot be taught.
“Teaching is hard but meaningful work. And it’s clear that these two alumni have a passion for creating engaging lessons that set students up for success,” said Dr. Stacie Pettit, professor of education. “And every day they bring that passion to work with them, they can change lives.”
The winner of the Columbia County school system’s Rookie of the Year award will be announced later in the school year. In addition to the two AU alumni, University of Georgia graduate Raley Arnold, a second-grade teacher at Brookwood Elementary School, is the third finalist.
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