By Curt Yeomans
Melissa Colon was a scared new teacher six and a half years ago when she sat in the Clayton County Performing Arts Center for orientation.
Things were different on Thursday, when she and 61 other teachers were recognized at the same facility for the school district's annual Teacher of the Year (TOTY) ceremony.
A giddy Colon, who is a dance and health teacher at Babb Middle School, was the center of attention as the district's overall Teacher of the Year.
The annual event is a chance for the teachers to reflect on why they decided to pursue careers in education in the first place.
"Anyone who takes time out of their lives to work with a child is a hero in my opinion," said Colon. "We don't do this for anything other than the children."
Colon will compete for state teacher of the year honors. The Georgia Department of Education will not name a state winner until the spring of 2009.
The 62 teachers recognized on Thursday represent the district's elementary, middle and high schools, as well as WORKTEC; the alternative school; the South Metro Psychoeducational Program, and the Flint River special education alternative school.
"As the saying goes, the cream will always rise to the top," said Superintendent John Thompson. "These teachers are ... role models not only for their students, but for their fellow teachers as well."
Several honored teachers echoed Colon's sentiments.
Tanya Johnson-Kirk, an eighth-grade math teacher at Riverdale Middle School and a finalist for the county's teacher of the year honor, said teachers have the ability to help children understand what it takes to be "productive citizens in society...
"I love working with children, and seeing that light bulb go off in their heads when they've learned something new," she said.
Edmund Webb, a fifth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School, said he enjoys interacting with his students and seeing the impact that setting a positive standard can have on a child.
"As much as they learn from me, I learn just as much from them," Webb said. "Having students you taught come back, and tell you how you made a difference in their lives, is the most rewarding part of being a teacher."