SOUTH FORSYTH — Andrew Poor may have driven to his job at South Forsyth Middle School as the reigning top teacher in the district, but he drove away that plus the key holder of a brand new car.
When the band teacher was named the 2016 Forsyth County Schools Teacher of the Year last week at the school system’s annual Celebration of Excellence luncheon, he was unable to accept the award in person because he was in Orlando with his students as they attended an annual music festival at Walt Disney World.
Therefore, he also could not accept at that moment the one-year lease on a Chevrolet Malibu that was awarded to him, the first time a teacher of the year was honored with such a prize.
“I was completely caught off guard,” Poor said after the received the keys Tuesday. “I had already prerecorded an acceptance speech. That’s what they had told me to do.
“I knew that all three of the finalists, really that whole room is filled with great teachers, and I was thrilled to be acknowledged as the middle school teacher of the year and was perfectly OK with that. Then, of course, when I found out … It’s a huge honor.”
He said he appreciates being named teacher of the year because to him it means the county values arts in public education.
“I think it recognizes that it’s an integral part of a complete education, and we have a lot of great arts programs across our county,” Poor said.
He certainly worked hard enough to earn the distinction, according to the school’s principal, Sandy Tinsley.
Poor gets to school most mornings about 7:30 to give extra instructional and practice time to students, she said. School does not start until 9 a.m. Then, he often holds band practice after school, usually until about 6 p.m.
“But even though his band room is full of students, and he has some classes as large as 85 kids in a class, he still is giving them individualized attention,” Tinsley said.
“He walks around the sections. He can notice hand movements, fingering movements, and does individual instruction for correction or praise. He just works really his students and pushes them and really sets the expectation very high.”
Those expectations last year cumulated at the trip to Orlando, for example, when the band won best in class and earned a superior rating.
This year, the band opted for the second of two formats at the Disney festival and focused the trip on attending clinics to further improve their music.
Tinsley said Poor’s teaching method is not all serious studies.
“He also makes it fun. And they kids know that. They know they’re working hard for a reason, and they know that there’s going to be a payoff at the end,” she said. “He is really good about celebrating that with them when they reach their goals.”
That method is part of Tinsley’s goal for her teachers, she said.
“I like to have all my students involved in at least one activity outside the classroom, and between band and chorus we have over 50 percent of our kids involved in either one of those.”
Since Poor became the band teacher at the school on Windermere Parkway, the program has grown from 135 to 367 students in two years.
Though the recognition is humbling and the car certainly is a nice perk, Poor said he would have done the same without the honor at the end.
“In terms of what I do on a day-to-day basis, I’m going to continue to keep doing what I do,” he said. “I hope that it brings some positive recognition to the school. We’re still doing all the things that we’ve planned.
“I know the faculty was very supportive of me winning, and I know that it’s a huge honor to have one in your school. I don’t know if it changes anything for me, but it does feel good when you work really hard to receive that acknowledgement.”