Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Julie Bailey-Wegner, a fifth-grade teacher at Mulberry Elementary School, is a finalist for the Gwinnett County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
AUBURN — Walk into Julie Bailey-Wegner’s fifth-grade classroom at Mulberry Elementary School and it only takes a moment to notice the research-based teaching practices in place.
Her classroom library is an inviting nook where students can curl up with a pillow or stuffed animal and select from dozens and dozens of books from any genre. Across the room, there’s evidence that she uses an instructional strategy known as Writers’ Workshop, a technique designed to motivate students and help them become confident and fluent writers.
In another space, known as a Word Wall, vocabulary words from science and social studies lessons are displayed. On a recent afternoon, students were engaged in a lesson — disguised as a game — to strengthen their knowledge of the vocabulary words.
“Games have always been a part of my instructional strategy,” said Bailey-Wegner, one of the finalists for Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year. “That particular game — Password, using the PowerPoint — that is something new this year that I started doing.”
Although Bailey-Wegner has used PowerPoint presentations in her classroom for years, interactive presentations that make such games possible are new to her. She’s still learning how to use the technology, but she knows it’s important to use it in her classroom.
“I’m not preparing children to be ‘Jeopardy’ or Trivial Pursuit champions. I’m preparing them to be thinkers and problem- solvers,” she said. “I really believe in the 21st century skills, which are about communication and technology,”
She said she also makes a concerted effort to develop her students’ critical thinking skills.
“Life is going to require them to think critically, so school should prepare them for that,” she said. “We incorporate a lot of activities that are beyond just answering a straight comprehension question.
“When they grow up, they’re going to have to analyze, they’re going to have to problem solve, they’re going to have to support their opinions. So we need to teach them how to do that when they’re still young.”
As the only elementary school educator who is a finalist for Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year, Bailey-Wegner has already earned the title of Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Before the district unveils its top teacher on Thursday, officials will name the Middle School and High School Teachers of the Year. The system winner will be chosen from the three level winners.
Bailey-Wegner, who grew up in Dacula and graduated from Dacula High School, said she was “flabbergasted and just honored” when she found out she was a finalist.
“I love teaching. I love what I do. I truly respect my boss and enjoy working with my colleagues. I love all these kids. It’s nice to be recognized for something that I love doing,” she said. “How many people can say that they love going to work, they love what they do, they love the people they work with? I’m really fortunate that I can say that.”