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Level Creek honoree was born to be a teacher

Staff Photo: Keith Farner Level Creek Elementary Teacher of the Year Katie Turner works with Donavin Rigdon, left, and Zan Khan, two students in her fourth grade class, on Tuesday.

Staff Photo: Keith Farner Level Creek Elementary Teacher of the Year Katie Turner works with Donavin Rigdon, left, and Zan Khan, two students in her fourth grade class, on Tuesday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of profiles of the Teachers of the Year at the North Gwinnett cluster schools.

SUWANEE -- With several family members already in the education field, Katie Turner figured she was born to be a teacher. But that sentiment was clinched when growing up, she began to bargain with her brother for school time in exchange for playing LEGOs.

"I would play LEGOs with him for a half an hour, if he would sit down and be my student for a half hour," said Turner, a fourth-grade teacher at Level Creek Elementary who was named last month as the school's Teacher of the Year.

Turner's family background in education includes her grandmother, who was a school board representative and was active in the national school board. Her aunt and uncle were a superintendent and assistant superintendent and her uncle had a school named after him last year. Her father enjoyed hands-on learning, and would take her to battefields, Turner said.

"He taught me a love of learning," said Turner, a South Gwinnett graduate. "So I kind of got it from all sides, the traditional education from my grandmother and uncle, then the love of learning from my parents, and the practice with my poor brother."

Turner said since it was announced she was the Teacher of the Year, her family has had interesting philosophical discussions about education.

Turner has taught at Level Creek for nine years, since the school opened, and overall for 14 years. It was recently announced that Turner advanced to the top 25 of teachers in Gwinnett competing for a county-wide award.

Since she's been nominated before, but never won, Turner prepared a statement to congratulate the other finalists at Level Creek. So she was speechless when Level Creek Principal Nancy Kiel announced the award on the school's morning news program.

While Turner said she feels appreciated from students, parents and colleagues, to be formally recognized felt good.

"It authenticates what I've been doing, and what I've been working hard for," she said.

Turner has taught fourth grade for 10 years, and said she's passionate about the curriculum.

"It's a developmentally difficult time because they're starting to get older and more dependent and we're starting to ask a little more of them," she said. "My job to help bridge that, to make something that could be overwhelming and terrifying, accessible."

Kiel said the respect for Turner among colleagues at Level Creek has been evident throughout the application process at the school and county level.

"With Katie, what's key is the passion," Kiel said. "She ignites a room, lights it up, brings it alive, and she tries to do it in creative ways for the children to bring the content alive, which is key."

Since the honor was announced, Turner said it took her some time to get used to getting so much attention, not to mention pampered by family and friends. Turner's heard from students she had 14 years ago who are married with kids, but remember what kind of teacher she was in their class.

As for the next steps, Turner said she's excited, but has mixed emotions about more of the process at the county level that includes a photo shoot, interviews and video recording.

To be among the top 25 teachers this year in Gwinnett County is "overwhelming," but Turner admitted she's also a competitive person and wants to advance further.