Tuesday morning’s gloomy weather didn’t stop an entourage of officials from spreading some cheer.
Carrying balloons and flowers, the group surprised three educators with the news they had been chosen Forsyth County school system’s teachers of the year for the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Antoinette Sullivan, Tracey Heffelfinger and Anna Aigner-Muehler were all smiles — and a few tears — as they were honored by school system staff in front of their students.
One of the three teachers will be chosen to represent the school district at the state level. Georgia’s top teacher will be announced next month.
“What the Emmys are to Hollywood, this is to teachers,” said Aigner-Muehler, who teaches German at Forsyth Central High. “It’s a huge honor.
“Just to have recognition from staff, from students, from parents and also from the administration is just such a confirmation of what we do every day.”
Aigner-Muehler graduated from Agnes Scott College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in art. She earned a master’s degree in education at Leslie University and worked in Austria as a teacher’s assistant before joining Central in 2002.
The honor of high school teacher of the year “when you first come into teaching, it’s the thing you aspire to be,” Aigner-Muehler said.
“This is an outward sign of that inward commitment that I’m able to be an effective teacher,” she said. “To have someone give you that recognition is a wonderful feeling.
“But I have to say that every day I get recognition from those teenagers sitting in [my] room.”
Heffelfinger, known by her students as the Heffenator, was shocked to be honored at the middle school level.
But the Little Mill Middle gifted math teacher said she doesn’t think it will change her students.
“I’m a very challenging teacher and they know they have to be held up to a very high standard anyway,” she said. “So no matter what title I have, they know I’m going to expect a lot out of them.”
Heffelfinger holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science/business from Furman University and a master’s degree in education from Walden University. She started teaching at Little Mill in 2002.
“There’s not a bad teacher in this school,” she said. “So just to get recognized as the teacher of the year for this school is plenty of an honor, so every step that I go on … is really exciting.
“This is a second career for me. I do this because I want to do it. So I guess my love for teaching just came through.”
The teachers were congratulated Tuesday by Superintendent Buster Evans and members of the school system’s administrative team.
Also taking part in the festivities were each school’s principal, as well as Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Seago, among others.
“This is probably the most fun that we have all year long,” Evans said. “It’s a great opportunity to recognize outstanding teachers. We’ve got so many of them and that’s what makes the [selection] process that much more difficult.
“This is a highlight for us, it really is.”
At Coal Mountain Elementary, art teacher Sullivan grew misty-eyed as her students looked on.
“My mind’s a whirl right now,” she told officials. “It just goes on so many levels for me — as a teacher, as an artist, as an educator. It’s unbelievable.”
Debbie Smith, Coal Mountain’s principal, said Sullivan understated her importance to learning. It’s more than coloring and painting in art class.
“What Toni does so beautifully is she marries the Georgia standards and curriculum and she funnels that through the arts so that children are able to have reinforcement of what they’re learning in the academic classroom in their art classroom and it’s just phenomenal,” Smith said.
“It has had great results for sustained lifetime learning. She’s just wonderful.”