DULUTH - Linda Koch is a teacher who has truly seen the world. When she was 12, her family traveled for four years, criss-crossing five continents and briefly living in Australia. She has been around the world almost six times, an experience that helps her excel in the classroom.
She is one of six finalists for the county-wide Teacher of the Year award.
Koch's father was a freelance writer and photographer for National Geographic, a jet-setter who wanted to ensure his family knew everything about the world. He quizzed them on geography, culture and history as they made their way through Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Australia, India and many other countries in the family Land Rover.
Forty years later, the social studies teacher at Duluth Middle School has a deep appreciation for knowledge in all subjects. Her worldliness is something that has helped her teach a variety of subject areas.
"Literally while I've been in Gwinnett, I've taught every single subject at every single middle school grade level," Koch said. "What's really funny is I never, ever thought I'd be teaching middle school or high school."
Though she didn't expect to end up doing it, Koch has enjoyed teaching middle school. She loves educating students in the in-between phase of being children and young adults, when they are still trying to find their own identities.
Koch is one of six educators up for the school system's annual Teacher of the Year award, which will be announced at a banquet on Nov. 3 at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. She was chosen from a pool of 105 local school honorees, which were narrowed down to 20 semi-finalists. The winner will receive a $1,000 bonus every year he or she is employed by Gwinnett Schools and will represent Gwinnett in the state-wide Teacher of the Year competition.
Her involvement with students isn't just limited to her classes. Koch used to coach Science Olympiad and Math Counts teams. Three years ago, she took over as the coach of the Duluth Middle academic team. Back then, the students never came home with awards when they competed. Now the team has consistently ranked among the top four teams in state tournaments.
Koch practices with the academic team almost every day to ensure they're well-versed in topics ranging from geography to literature and music. She said they take pride in representing their school positively, whether they bring home trophies or not.
"These are the kinds of kids that want to do well, and to do less is not acceptable for them," Koch said. "They would be quite happy to come away without a trophy as long as the actual competition shows their best effort."
The team's greatest achievement tested their speed as well as their knowledge. In the Knowledge Master computer-based competition, the academic team competed against 900 schools around the world, answering 200 questions in 2 hours. They won first place.
Her students appreciate Koch's unique approach to learning. Because she had lived abroad and traveled extensively, she had no trouble making immigrant students feel at home. She recalls one Vietnamese boy who came to her class knowing virtually no English. Slowly she helped him learn. Years later, he called her from California, telling her he was now at Stanford University and was nominating her for a teacher award.
Koch is also passionate about assessment. As the district's coordinator of middle school Gateway scoring, she has worked extensively to help teachers with their assessment strategies. She helps other teachers analyze their students' skills and areas of weakness. Her students learn how to look at their own work critically to see how they would do things differently.
"She is one of those people who never sees the forest without seeing each of the trees," Principal Kay Harvey said. "She can find each child's areas of strengths and areas of expertise and use that as the fertile grounds to plant new opportunities for them to excel."
Though she may not travel as frequently as she did in her youth, Koch still brings the world to Duluth Middle School.