Jennifer Gann lets her curiosity wander when she can, letting herself ask questions and think about new ideas and opportunities.
She said the best wanderers, though, are her fourth-grade students at Brandywine Elementary School. Gann has worked as a teacher at Brandywine since the school first opened in 2016, and in her years there, she is still blown away by what students have to share during their lessons.
“I’m over 29, and I’m still learning,” Gann said, laughing. “I just want them — and I say this a lot — just to stay curious. Keep looking, keep reflecting.”
School: Brandywine Elementary School
Years teaching: 15
Subject: Fourth grade
This is why Gann always finds herself coming back to elementary school. Whether she is teaching driver’s education, Taekwondo or physical education, she said the curiosity that her little ones have draws her back into the fourth-grade classroom.
The Forsyth County News’ November Teacher of the Month talked with us about her year teaching virtually, what she loves about Brandywine Elementary and how she spends her time outside of the classroom.
What was it like to start teaching at Brandywine when it first opened?
“It's a good experience opening up a brand new school like that. It was exciting. It took me a couple of weeks to figure out how to get around. It was such a big building and it’s so spread out. So I’d see that dazed and confused look and say, ‘I know that look. Let me help you out.’
“The kids came in, and they were really wide-eyed about everything. I mean, the first day of school is always like that anyways, but then [there was] the added experience of kids still figuring out the environment and what it was going to be like.
“It was really interesting to come together [with the other teachers] and come up with a Brandywine way of doing things.”
What are some things you have had to get used to this year while teaching virtually?
“It gets a little too quiet in there, and I tell [the kids] all the time I can’t wait to hopefully be in a classroom with them. I don’t know if that will happen this year or not. We just don’t know from quarter to quarter what’s going to happen. But we always talk about [looking] forward to the day when we can be outside at recess.
“We had this project where they kind of created their own civilization with the languages, and they came up with games. It would have been really cool to take those games and try them outside at recess, but we never really got to do that. I miss that day-to-day contact for sure.
“You [usually] get to see those ah-ha moments when they get it and it clicks, and you just don’t see that as much online.”
What do you love about Brandywine?
“I like the school a lot. I think it has a very positive culture to it. I think it all boils down to people and relationships, whether it’s my fellow fourth-grade teachers or maybe it’s other grade levels or specials teachers. We’ve all kind of pulled together, especially this year when it’s been even more so like we need to lean on each other a little bit. I think that’s what I like about it the best.”
What do you like to do outside of school?
“I run all the time on the [Big Creek] Greenway. I’ve done two marathons. I’d love to do a third, but of course, all of the races are held off for now. So I’ve been doing virtual challenges just to keep me out there, and the Greenway is amazing. We’re so fortunate to have that.
“I also play for the Alpharetta Community Band, so I play with that group. For now, our rehearsals have been held off because with wind instruments, that’s kind of the worst thing you could be doing with the way coronavirus is spread. We’ve had to put that off for a little while, but hopefully we can get back to normal. We play for senior citizen homes, we do patriotic events in Alpharetta like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, just that type of thing. I miss all of that.”
What do you play in the band?
“French horn. I’ve been playing since seventh grade, but I took 10 years off so it’s been about 30-plus years. I was in a Gwinnett community band for a while, and then I’ve been with Alpharetta Community Band for at least 10 years I think.
“I played through college and then I got married, had kids and kind of put it away for a while. And I was working at a children’s hospital, and this group came in and someone was playing French horn and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I really miss that.’ And that was the thing that got me going again. So I picked it up and joined a band in St. Louis where I was living at the time and played with them for five or six years before moving south.”