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Leaving 'footprints' on students' hearts

By Greg Gelpi

It's just her "passion for teaching," Sharon Buck says of her success in the classroom, and that passion and dedication to youth was recognized as part of National Teachers Week.

Buck, 47, of Riverdale Elementary School, Annette Painter of Roberta T. Smith Elementary School, Irene Mauss of Morrow Middle School, Kristie Brogdon Heath of Lovejoy Middle School and Victoria Barnes of Church Street Elementary School are the Clayton County teachers among 89 from metro Atlanta recognized as teachers of the year Tuesday.

"Each year you're handed a new challenge," Buck said, adding that each challenge is focused on the needs of the children.

The questions children ask as they discover the world around them keep teaching exciting, Heath said.

"It's just an exciting place to be," she said. "I just love being with my children."

Teachers impact students each day, inspiring them to achieve Gov. Sonny Perdue said at the breakfast honoring the teachers. Touting his recent 2 percent pay raise for the state's teachers, he addressed naysayers, pointing out that no raise is big enough for teachers.

"You have the most important job in the state I want to admit that," Perdue said. "My job is facilitating... I know we can't pay enough (for teachers)."

Although teachers are overworked and underpaid, he said, they are rewarded by the recognition from and accomplishments of their students.

Betty Siegel, the president of Kennesaw State University, recalls the impacts of her teachers through the years, from a second-grade teacher who caught her cheating on a spelling test to a college professor who inspired her to teach.

"Education was the window to my world," said Siegel, the daughter of a coal miner and keynote speaker of the event.

Teachers have made a "profound difference" in her life, she said, and her life was forever changed by teachers.

She thanked teachers for the "footprints" they leave on hearts and carries on that tradition as a teacher herself.

"I would teach even if I didn't get paid for it," Siegel said. "I don't want the chancellor to know that."

Mike Duke, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, also spoke of the way teachers shaped his life.

"I know I'm a better person today because of the teachers I've had in my life," Duke said.

Crediting his Fayette County High School physics teacher, he says that teacher gave him the direction to attend Georgia Tech, pursue a degree in industrial engineering and have a career in retailing.

The teachers of the year ceremony was hosted and sponsored by Wal-Mart, which also gave each teacher's school a $1,000 grant as part of the program.