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Education's stars shine at TOTY ceremony

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Sixty teachers from Clayton County schools, and a specialized education program called WORKTEC, got a chance to be recognized on Thursday for their work in the classroom.

The school system held its annual Teacher Of The Year ceremony at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center. The theme for the Thursday night ceremony was "An Evening With the Stars."

Teachers were selected by their colleagues at their respective schools to be considered for the overall honor of recognition as the county's top instructor.

Anna Cox, the teacher of the year for Jonesboro High School, was named Teacher Of The Year for Clayton County.

"Clayton County is like a field of beautiful flowers, and we picked one from each school to represent our garden," Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan told the audience during the ceremony. "Teachers have fight, enthusiasm, and bring energy to the classroom. They don't let obstacles hold them back."

Cox, who teaches Latin at Jonesboro High School and is the faculty coach of the school's mock trial team, was chosen from a list of six finalists.

She has a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia. In the spring, she will become one of the first people to obtain a master's degree from Clayton State University.

This year, Cox and the Jonesboro High School mock trial team, won the national Mock Trial Championship in Dallas, Texas.

"Show your students you believe in them, and they'll rise to the occasion," Cox said. "Don't lie to children, because they'll recognize it in an instant, and be turned off by it. It's not always easy to be a teacher in Clayton County. We don't get a lot of good press, and sometimes, we're the brunt of a lot of jokes, and vents in the Atlanta media. What we do get, though, is a lot of good kids in need of our guidance, " she added.

"Anna Cox is the perfect blend, she's got old-school flare and new-school zeal," said Carl Jackson, the interim principal at Jonesboro High School. "As long as I am in Clayton County, there are two things I will fight tirelessly to keep. One is Jonesboro High School, and the other is Anna Cox."

The other finalists for the countywide award were Ginia McMillan (Morrow High School), Michael Washington (Mundy's Mill High School), Kristie Heath (Lovejoy Middle School), Nicole Brewer (Mt. Zion Elementary School), and Peer Syed (Forest Park High School).

Cox's win in Clayton County puts her in the running for the Georgia Teacher Of The Year award this spring.

As she waits to hear how she stacks up against other teachers from across the state, her fellow teachers said they were just flattered to be chosen to represent their respective schools.

Kay Shelnutt, of Hawthorne Elementary School, for example, said receiving the local recognition is "very humbling" because it comes from fellow educators.

"When you consider the expertise in this building [Hawthorne], the fact that they think so highly of you is really flattering," Shelnutt said.

In the end, though, Yolanda Umojamay, of The Learning Academy of E. J. Swint Elementary, said the best part about teaching is working with students in the classroom, being there for them, and showing them she cares for them.

"You should value the differences in each of your students, and teach them to be original in their hopes and dreams."