Photo by Corinne Nicholson
LAWRENCEVILLE -- On the night of her 49th birthday, Deborah Stringfellow also celebrated being named the 2010 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year.
Hundreds of educators, their family members and sponsors filled the Gwinnett Center, which hosted the annual banquet.
Stringfellow, a seventh-grade science teacher at Crews Middle School, has taught for 24 years, including the last six in Gwinnett.
Despite being one of six finalists chosen out of more than 11,000 teachers countywide, Stringfellow, choking back tears at times, said she was surprised to have won.
"I'm definitely honored and totally stunned," Stringfellow said. "It's not very often that I'm at a loss for words."
Stringfellow offered three keys to her success.
"You have to love your kids, love your subject and be able to reflect on your teaching and change when necessary," she said.
Stringfellow called her career "a calling," and said she knew at a very young age that despite having parents who didn't have much of a formal education, she wanted to learn and help others learn.
School was a refuge from poverty, she said, and classrooms her asylum. She taught her younger brothers to read and tutored her mother through the GED process, bolstering her desire to become an educator.
Stringfellow actually attended nursing school, on a full scholarship, for about two weeks before becoming ill and having to quit.
Funny how things work out sometimes.
She picked up her education at Troy University, earning a bachelor's degree in education and a master's in special education before adding a specialist's degree in education administration/leadership from Lincoln Memorial University.
She believes a little bit of language arts and creative thinking mixed in with science lessons makes for a brighter, more creative student. Her students don't just conduct scientific experiments, they are required to write about them and explain their thought processes.
"Students' engagement, enthusiasm and time on task increased when given opportunities for creative expression as a way of reporting scientific information," she said.
For winning the award, Stringfellow will receive an extra $1,000 in her annual contract over the duration of her Gwinnett County Public Schools career. She also earned $1,000 from Gwinnett County Federal Credit Union and the use of a new car for three months.
More importantly, perhaps, is being considered the top educator in the county, the culmination of her life's work.
Overall, 112 local Teachers of the Year were honored. Joining Stringfellow as finalists were Joe Cox of Brookwood High School, Chuck Lockert of Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Jennifer Rolfes of Mill Creek High School, James Glenn of Norcross High School and Mark Landtroop of Winn Holt Elementary.
Glenn was awarded High School Teacher of the Year while Mark Landtroop was honored as the Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Each will have $750 added to their annual contracts as long as they remain with Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Stringfellow will now represent Gwinnett County in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.