Forsyth County Schools has announced its three 2018 Teacher of the Year finalists.
On Thursday and Friday morning, Forsyth County teachers Becky Morris, Julie Stephens and Jonas Strecker were surprised with the good news in their classrooms by Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden, President and CEO Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce James McCoy and representatives from Andean Chevrolet.
At each of the classroom reveals, Bearden took a moment to talk to students about why each teacher was chosen, and let the students talk about what makes that teacher special.
“I’m really excited for all three of our finalists. We have so many outstanding teachers in Forsyth County, so I would imagine for them it must be a humbling experience,” Bearden said.
Added Bearden: “We are known for having quality educators throughout our school system, and to make it to this level is very special.”
The first teacher to be surprised was Jonas Strecker, German teacher at South Forsyth High School.
“What I think [he] realizes is that relationships are how you build school culture and how you build your program and how you connect with students,” said South Forsyth High School Principal Laura Wilson.
“Because he is a native German, and a native German speaker, he can speak from real life experiences. And our students are all about the relevance of their learning,” she said.
At the reveal, Strecker said that he never imagined that he would be chosen.
“I’m speechless. This is only my fourth year teaching high school. I taught college before. It’s been a whirlwind, so much fun. I haven’t even had the chance to consider this because we have been growing the program so much,” he said.
He thinks that he was chosen because he has “amazing students” and he approaches teaching his students with the focus on how they will use the information in the real world.
“What I want my students to understand is that language and culture is real life,” he said.
The second teacher to be surprised was Becky Morris, a fourth grade teacher at Shiloh Point Elementary.
Morris has been teaching at the school for 12 years, since the school opened, and has taught a variety of grade levels.
A group of her family members were at the reveal to support her.
Her mom, Joanie Fowler — herself a former Shiloh Point teacher and teacher of the year — said that what sets her daughter apart is her passion.
“She’s passionate about teaching, but she’s more passionate about kids,” said Fowler.
Derrick Hershey, principal at Shiloh Point called Morris a “great educator” and said that her focus on educating students throughout the whole building and not just the ones in her classroom sets her apart from other educators.
“She focuses on the mind body and spirit, and teaching the whole child, so we are really excited and proud for her,” Hershey said.
“Children are our future. I can push paper all day long but if I don’t care about the kids in front of me, that’s the lasting impact,” Morris said.
The last teacher to be surprised with the news was Julie Stephens, the special education department chair and teacher at Lakeside Middle School.
Stephens is in her second year teaching at Lakeside Middle and has been in the county for seven years.
She, like Strecker, attributed her win to the students she teaches.
“I’m very big on building relationships with my kids so they feel comfortable and safe, and they work really hard because we have a good relationship. They know that I love them,” she said.
She went on to praise Kim Head, the principal at Lakeside Middle School.
“I will say that Mrs. Head has had a great amount of faith in me and believed in me, allowing me to go forward and think outside the box,” Stephens said.
During the reveal, Head said that Stephens’ love of her students and outside-the-box attitude was what set her apart from her peers.
“I believe that Julie’s advocacy is her greatest strength, because she’s always looking for possibilities with kids, no matter what their strengths and weaknesses are. And her outside-the-box thinking has gone toward those students’ success,” she said.
The three teachers have been recognized as the Forsyth County Schools teachers of the year for their respective school levels. Each will go through a final round of classroom observation in the coming weeks, and the final 2018 Forsyth County Schools teacher of the year will be announced at the Celebration of Excellence held on March 9, 2018.