Jamie Lynn McFarland of Rock Springs ES tells of a childhood “immersed in the incredible and awe-inspiring world of special education,” thanks to her mother, a teacher who took the young Jamie on home visits to the families of her special education students. Years before she had a classroom of her own, she was a babysitter for children with special needs. Ms. McFarland volunteered with organizations that serve children with special needs and their families. Those years ago, Ms. McFarland couldn’t know that she would be accepting the title of 2017 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year after just six years in the classroom. Clearly, she was born to be a special education teacher working with children with severe and profound disabilities.
At the Nov. 10 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year (TOTY) banquet, Ms. McFarland was named GCPS' top teacher as well as the Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Language Arts Teacher Alex Robson of GIVE Center West is this year’s Middle School Teacher of the Year. Luke Smith, who teaches Algebra II at Norcross HS, is the system’s TOTY at the high school level.
The annual event is an opportunity to honor all of the county's local school TOTYs who were chosen as representatives by their peers. This year, 135 local TOTYs were recognized during the festivities. The other three Teacher of the Year finalists were Teachers Brittany Mayweather of Mulberry ES, Brian Sinyard of Chattahoochee ES. and Lisa Hamilton of Pinckneyville MS. The six finalists were chosen from among 25 semifinalists. Of the six finalists, five attended Gwinnett County Public Schools themselves.
While Ms. McFarland has been a classroom teacher for a relatively short time, her impact has been profound, even life-changing for the families with whom she works and for the children she serves. Her teaching philosophy is rooted in her belief that all children can learn and contribute to their communities. “My students may have the odds stacked against them,” she says, “but it only makes the achievement that much sweeter.” Ms. McFarland helps her students make progress toward long-term goals by working on the short-term, attainable goals that serve as “stepping stones” to the massive milestones she knows her students can reach with the support of the teaching team and their families. Ultimately, Ms. McFarland hopes their work together and the relationships her students build with regular ed classmates lead to futures in which they are accepted and welcomed in the workplace and the wider community "where they can feel a sense of accomplishment and dignity."
In accepting the honor, Ms. McFarland said "My kids are not often recognized for what they can do. This means so much." She acknowledged that others may not see the value in the work she does with students with severe and profound disabilities, but her selection as the district's top teacher helps to give the children a voice. She spoke of a favorite quote-- "Not being able to speak is not the same as not having something to say."-- and how her amazing students deserve to be seen and celebrated. "You are the reason I do what I do," she said of the children in her class.
Ms. McFarland began teaching with a preschool special education program during the summer of 2011. However, in August of that year, she joined the staff of Rock Springs, where she has spent her six-year career working with students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities. Ms. McFarland earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Georgia in 2011.
We wish Jamie Lynn McFarland success as she advances to the state Teacher of the Year competition!
About our level winners…
GIVE Center West's Robson selected middle-level winner
Alex Robson’s students typically end up in his class because of disciplinary challenges. His language arts classroom at GIVE Center West is their second chance. His goal is to give students hope, and, in turn, they give him hope. He says the concept of freedom is a major theme in his life and in his classroom. During his own high school years, he started a project called The Freedom Cards. Participants—students, the famous, and everyday people from around the world— share what freedom means to them. Today, his middle school students explore this theme in their studies and benefit from exposure to different people and ideas. Mr. Robson began his career in education as a language arts tutor in 2013. In 2014, he joined the staff of GIVE Center West teaching language arts to 6th and 7th grade students. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching from Georgia State University.
Norcross HS' Smith honored as HS TOTY
Luke Smith firmly believes that all students need a positive relationship with their teacher and that all students can learn at high levels with necessary teacher expectations, differentiated instruction, and academic support. Helping students reach their potential means that both his math students and the student-athletes he coaches are striving to do their best. Mr. Smith says, "I can think of several students who hated math prior to my class and are now challenging themselves in some of the most difficult math courses offered at our school." He continues," Every student-athlete I have ever coached has graduated on time. In the past four years, 20 out of 21 student-athletes have qualified and signed scholarships to play [in college]. More importantly, they are succeeding academically at the next level as well." Mr. Smith joined the staff at Norcross HS as a math teacher in 2013. Prior to his work at Norcross, he taught at Eagle’s Landing High School in Henry County (2011-2013) and in Clarke County Schools (2009-2011). He earned his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Georgia.