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Teacher of the Year finalist: Lissette McRea

Berkmar Middle educator credits third-grade teacher for inspiration

Berkmar Middle teacher Lissette McRea is one of six finalists for the Gwinnett County Public Schools annual Teacher of the Year award that will be announced at a banquet on Thursday. (Special Photo)

Berkmar Middle teacher Lissette McRea is one of six finalists for the Gwinnett County Public Schools annual Teacher of the Year award that will be announced at a banquet on Thursday. (Special Photo)

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Lissette McRea

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a six-part series profiling the Teacher of the Year finalists for Gwinnett County Public Schools.

When Lissette McRea’s family migrated to America from Nicaragua in 1983, she had obstacles including not being able to speak English, and a lack of transportation to school events and parent meetings.

But her third-grade teacher, also an immigrant from Cuba, was an inspirational role model, who worked with McRea individually.

“I knew from that moment on I wanted to have that same influence on students I teach,” said McRea, a sixth-grade teacher at Berkmar Middle School. “As a kid, there were many times I wanted to just give up. I don’t want to do this anymore. It took a lot of positive energy. It took a lot from teachers and parents being present to get me through the hurdle.”

McRea has been an educator for 13 years, nine with Gwinnett County Public Schools. She taught at Lilburn Middle for seven years, and has worked at Berkmar Middle since 2011.

“I am living proof that education breaks the cycle of poverty and I feel an obligation to help others overcome obstacles,” she said. “My career in education has been in Title I schools and has revolved around working with students that mirror my own childhood experience.”

Teaching language arts, McRea said she puts online material as part of the district’s eCLASS initiative to connect the curriculum with current events. In her classroom, McRea said she’s used inspirational stories like the book “Freak the Mighty,” which features two characters who work together to overcome adversities, and Kyle Maynard, a congenital quadruple amputee and Collins Hill High School graduate.

That teaching strategy, along with the employing the Bring Your Own Device program and the use of Smartboards, has led McRea to be recognized as one of six finalists for the district’s annual Teacher of the Year award.

“The classroom is most certainly a natural place for me,” McRea said. “I have a passion for it.”

When she thought of the number of teachers across the district up for this award, McRea said it was a delightful surprise to be mentioned among the top six. Her goal now is to represent her school, and possibly the county, if she advances.

“When I look at this honor as a finalist, I don’t see it as anything I’ve done on my own,” McRea said. “It’s hard for me to say, ‘I fit the bill,’ or ‘I have what it takes.’ It’s not a solo venture.”