When Heather Gooch was growing up in Dacula, her mom worked, so the next-door neighbor took Gooch to school and brought her home everyday. It was a convenient arrangement. Gooch’s neighbor, Jennifer Tatum, was a teacher there.
Tatum taught autistic students, and her interaction with her students made an impression on Gooch. As Gooch approached college, she considered a few career paths---sports broadcaster, veterinarian---but she always came back to those years watching Tatum in her classroom.
After graduating from the University of North Georgia, Gooch was hired at Whitlow Elementary School as a paraprofessional---in an autism classroom. The next year, Gooch was hired as a full-time teacher, and she’s been in the Forsyth County Schools district ever since.
Gooch currently teaches specialized pre-K at Silver City Elementary School. She was selected by readers as the Forsyth County News’ Teacher of the Month for February.
The FCN spoke with Gooch about her first year of teaching, her two dogs and how she thinks being a teacher will be different after having her first child, a daughter, this summer.
What was your first year of teaching like?
“The first year I taught, it was really hard. I think a lot of teachers say that. There were a lot of tears. But I look back on that year, and I'm so thankful for that year, because I grew so much just with behavior management in my classroom, learning the curriculum and understanding how a first-grader is developing.
“I feel like I matured so much that first year, even just as a person. I was 22. I'm right out of college and had 24 6- and 7-year-olds. I remember I'd have parents come in and say, ‘Oh, it's so nice to meet you -- are you in high school?’ That would so intimidate me. Or they'd go, Where's the teacher?
“As the years have gone on, it's gotten a lot easier, because all the experience I've had, I feel like I can take those experiences and use them for each new position I've been in.”
How would you describe your teaching style?
“I'm very passionate, and I'm all about relationships. I know they're going to learn, because once I build that trust with them everything else falls into place. That's what I have really, really learned.
“And that's why I love where I am now, because I have 10 students. Instead of having 25, I can really connect, not only with the kids, but with the parents too, and have that personal relationship -- know their likes, know their dislikes, know what makes them mad, sad, and all of those.”
What do you enjoy outside of teaching?
“We have two dogs. We have a basset hound, Sassy, and a black lab, Bella. They consume a lot of our time. The basset hound is 2, so she's still in that puppy phase. So I walk them when I go home.
“We have a camper too, so in the spring and summer and fall we go camping at the beach down at Panama City. We camp locally a lot of times, too.”
How do you think teaching will be different after you have your daughter this summer (Gooch and her husband are expecting their first child in June)?
“I bet when she gets here and I'm a mom, I probably will be a little more relaxed. I'm already laid back, but I think that's probably going to be even more. Things that I think before might have bothered me that might have been little, I think I'm going to go, 'Eh, it's all good; we're going to handle it.'
“What I'm really excited about is being able to relate to parents when I talk to them even more.”