Staff Photo: Keith Farner Patti Barry, middle, this year's Teacher of the Year at Suwanee Elementary, points to an assignment for Pierce Haynes, while fellow fourth graders Emma Rose Sarnowski and Kate Boynton look on.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of profiles of the Teachers of the Year in North Gwinnett cluster schools.
SUWANEE -- Because Patti Barry works among a team of teachers who she considers great, the award of Teacher of the Year at Suwanee Elementary was especially humbling because any teacher in the building is worthy of the award.
"What it means for my career is it's a validation for what I've been doing for the last 22 years," Barry said. "It's quite the honor because I work with such wonderful teachers."
Barry is in her fifth year at Suwanee Elementary, and she teachers special education and focuses on interrelated resources in third through fifth grade. She encourages them to use foundation skills the students developed earlier in elementary school. Barry came to Gwinnett to work in the Vision program seven years ago, after she taught in Rhode Island and New York.
Suwanee Elementary Principal Kim Smith said it's clear that Barry gives "110 percent" and puts her heart and soul into teaching.
"She's here for the kids and that's very evident in what she does and how she does it," Smith said. "She'll sit in on conferences that she's not required to sit in on, she'll support teachers as they support not only the kids she works with directly, but other kids. She's a teacher's teacher and really all about the kids, and we probably don't tell her enough how much we appreciate her."
As a parent of a child with special needs, Barry's skills are especially noticeable for Smith, she said.
"I know how important that is," Smith said. "Because you want somebody who doesn't just look at your child as a test score, or one of 23 or one of 24. You want them to look at it on an individual basis, what they need. She does that."
One way Barry said she tries to connect with students is learning about their life, interests and hobbies outside of school.
"They know that you care about them," she said. "It's not just a test score, I do look at the whole child, and look at what they're doing in the classroom and apply that to real life."
Because Barry is a member of the "support staff" at the school, she doesn't always get the same individual recognition as teachers receive gifts and other feedback from parents.
Barry's talent, Smith said, is working with students who are challenged academically.
"Because she doesn't just work with them on an academic basis," Smith said. "I've seen her work with and the growth they've made, and things they're doing outside the school and getting them engaged."
Barry, a Pennsylvania native, said her favorite part of teaching is the "light bulb moment" when students "just get it."
Although as a youngster, Barry said she considered being a nurse, her entire career has been as a teacher, a path she credits her parents for helping steer her down.
"I think it's just I used to read all the books about different kinds of teachers, and kind of was interested in what they were doing," Barry said. "My parents were wonderful role models, even though they weren't professional educators, they certainly were inspirational to me in the teachings they gave my brother and I."