When Aimee Faulkner drove onto Pinecrest Academy’s campus for the first time, she immediately knew it was where she needed to be.
“It was a weird feeling,” she said. “I just felt so comfortable. I wasn’t nervous anymore, and I just thought — this is it.”
Faulkner started her teaching career in Forsyth County Schools after graduating with her bachelor’s from the University of North Georgia. She worked at Kelly Mill Elementary and then at Mashburn Elementary School for two years before she found an opportunity to interview at Pinecrest Academy, a private Catholic school for K-12 students located on Peachtree Parkway in Cumming.
She started her first day at Pinecrest seven years ago as a fourth-grade teacher, and she remembers every moment.
“I was freaking out because it was my second job ever in teaching,” Faulkner said. “You want everyone to like you.”
School: Pinecrest Academy
Years teaching: 9
Subject: Fourth grade
With a coffee in hand, she walked into her first class and immediately felt excited for the start of the school year. She remembers that, at the time, many of her students were new to the school, too, and they helped each other get acclimated to the campus.
Now, that class of fourth-graders are juniors in high school, many of them are still at Pinecrest. And Faulkner said she is excited to continue to see her students grow and succeed both on campus and in life.
These connections with her students and her passion for the Pinecrest Academy community are just some of the many reasons why the community voted Faulkner as the Forsyth County News’ Teacher of the Month for March. The FCN spoke with her about her time teaching at Pinecrest, what the switch was like between public and private school and what she likes to do outside of the classroom.
What do you like about teaching at Pinecrest Academy?
“What I love most about Pinecrest is I can address the situation, I can help form the child and I can take the time to talk to them about, ‘OK, this is a decision you made. What would Jesus want you to do in this situation?’ …. I have the time to do that, and that is my absolute favorite part that I am able to say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this.’
I love that. I love that I get to actually teach the child and not the class as a whole.
We have that ability to go, “Hey, this lesson isn’t what you need right now. Right now, we need to talk about this.’ In public school, you’re not really allowed to do that because you are mandated with so much stuff. With private school and specifically Pinecrest, you’re able to do that.”
Are the classes smaller at Pinecrest?
“The class sizes cap at 20. This year, we have 23 fourth graders, so I have 12 and my co-teacher across the hall has 11. So small group instruction is amazing because it's about one on three.
It’s nice to be able to really know your kids. Having that relationship with the kids is really important, and that’s something that I’ve always tried to do is have a relationship with each kid. And being at Pinecrest, It’s so much easier to do that.”
Would you say that’s been the biggest difference for you going from a public to a private school?
“Yes, that and the community. Pinecrest’s community is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It sounds so cheesy, but it is truly a family. You can go to anybody in that school, and they’re going to go, ‘What can I do to help you? Can I pray for you?’
“My dad actually had some heart problems in the fall, and I got this beautiful card where families had dedicated Mass for my dad, had prayed the full Rosary, had done Hail Marys and all those kinds of things. It was a beautiful, spiritual bouquet of all the things they were doing praying for him.
“I am so attached because it is like one, giant family.
“It’s not even just the people we work with. It’s the parents. They’re amazing and [always ask what they can do to help]. And it’s not a battle. We have an understanding that we’re on the same side, and we’re here to help your child grow and work with you.
“It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. You feel it when you drive onto the campus.”
Do you like still having students on campus when they go to middle and high school?
“Yes, it’s so cool. The nurse’s office is in the lower school, so every so often, a kid will come by and they [stop to say hello]. It is so funny when you have kids in fourth grade and their voices are all high and squeaky, and now they’re the deepest voices you’ve ever heard and you think, ‘Wait, who was that? That’s not what your voice sounds like!’
“We love it when they come back by.”
Did you always want to teach elementary students?
“Elementary has always been the age group I like to be around. Doing an upper elementary grade is really great because they’re still super sweet and they want to give you hugs and please you and do what’s right. When they’re young like that, they still care what you think, and they want you to be proud of them, which of course I am.
“But they’re always independent enough to run groups and know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing in class. And then they still get my jokes.”
Do you like to create fun assignments for the students?
“For sure! We do a lot of reading mysteries where a fairytale character has done something, and they have to use their context clues to figure it out. They love those. That’s kind of my [assignment for if they] finish early.
“They really like doing the escape-the-classroom puzzles, and all that kind of stuff. Anything you can add to it to make it just a little bit fun, they are there for it.
“I teach reading and science, and with reading, they ask, ‘Can we do something besides worksheets,’ so I say, well, let me figure something out …. It’s nice, they get to do those fun things and then they’re happy to go right back to our rotations and small groups and all that.”
What do you like to do outside of the classroom?
“I just like hanging out with friends. I really like going to concerts. Board games are also my jam. I like to do a little bit of crafts like I’ll make T-shirts, stickers... Nothing too exciting.
“And I like to read, which I tell my kids all the time I hated reading when I was little because that’s what they always tell me. They say, ‘I hate reading. You’ll never get me to like reading.’ …. But now as an adult, I read all the time.”