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Clayton County's 2006 Teacher of the Year selected

By Johnny Jackson

Cassie Harris, a sixth grade teacher at Lovejoy Middle School, recently earned the honor of Clayton County's 2006 Teacher of the Year.

”Oh my God; thank you so much,“ she said as members of the county's Teacher of the Year selection committee filed into Harris's small modular numbered ”499“ to congratulate her with flowers and balloons.

”I'm simply elated and extremely proud to represent the teachers of Clayton County,“ she said. ”To the Teacher of the Year Committee, especially Ms. Casey (the principal) and my students, I will continue to try my best to be an excellent teacher. I thank you very much for your support.“

Harris is a 26-year veteran teacher who was also voted Teacher of the Year at T. G. Terry and Cesar Chavez elementary schools in Texas. This is her second year with the Clayton County School District.

She has a bachelor's degree from Eastern Kentucky University, with a certification in Gifted Education and Middle Grades. And she involves herself in energy-driven activities.

Last Thanksgiving, she ran in her first marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Atlanta. She only ran 13 miles, then. But she will run a 5K race in the Peachtree Classic this year.

In her spare time she volunteers at the Lovejoy Branch Library. She shocks her students by suggesting she loves to roller skate.

”I love skating,“ she said. ”I haven't been able to do any roller skating since I moved here, though. I love reading and traveling when I have an opportunity. And I have a small talent in gardening. I guess you can say it's a hidden talent. (But) as far as my garden being extremely sophisticated, I'm not at that point yet.“

Harris will be formally recognized as the 2006 Teacher of the Year by the school district during a special program on Jan. 12, 2006, at the Performing Arts Center. There, she will join 56 other school-level Teachers of the Year.

”I think I was chosen because of the commitment that I have in trying to establish excellence in my children,“ she said. ”My teaching philosophy is that as educators, we have to be knowledgeable of our required subjects and that we understand all students can learn. We have to understand, not only how to teach our subjects, but how to reach all the students in our classroom so that the children will be motivated to learn.“

She said her classes are involved with cooperative studies and active projects.

”In my classroom, I don't like to give just pencil and paper tests,“ she said. ”We have a very good rapport with each other. My children know that I'm very serious about their work and their excellence.“

She said her parents were big influences in her life and career as an educator.

”I truly feel that my mom and my father were my first teachers. They were our first teachers at home. And there were six of us (children)-I was raised in Kentucky. We had a very loving family-an extended family where everybody knew us and expected the best of us.“

She gave credit to her husband Carnell Harris, her aunt Cora Daniel, and her first-grade teacher Helen Wilson among others in her family who, according to her, had a part to play in her success thus far. She said her grandmother, Alberta Daniel, first started her out in Sunday School class and she has been moving ever since.

”We looked at her philosophy,“ said Anita Thomaston, teacher at Adamson Middle School. Thomaston was awarded Clayton County's 2005 Teacher of the Year, when she said she felt overwhelmed and amazed by the honor. A part of her role as 2005's Teacher of the Year is to be a member of the five-person Teacher of the Year selection committee this year.

”We were very impressed with her instruction,“ she said. ”The students were using critical thinking skills. They were very responsive. She's applied for and received grants, and she mentors teachers who are just starting out. We saw a lot of dedication in her.“

Harris said she will proudly apply for Georgia Teacher of the Year this year as well, but that teaching was her biggest reward.

”The reward in teaching is having the ability to captivate the interest of students who have been labeled as ‘failures' and redeem their self-esteem as academic scholars through guidance, perseverance, patience, and love,“ she said.