Summerour Middle School teacher Carol Williams is a finalist for the Gwinnett County Public Schools’ annual Teacher of the Year award that will be announced at a banquet on Thursday. Williams uses rap songs, games and puzzles to sixth-grade accelerated math students. (Special Photo)
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a six-part series profiling the Teachers of the Year finalists for Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Carol Williams calls the Teacher of the Year award the “Oscars of education,” and when she found out she was one of six finalists, she danced like she was on her way to pickup hardware on the red carpet.
“I felt like I was at Disney, they say dreams come true,” she said. “I was really caught by surprise, I’ve never had that much excitement in my classroom before.”
Williams, who teaches sixth-grade accelerated math at Summerour Middle School, is among the finalists for Gwinnett County Public Schools’ highest teaching honor, which will be announced on Thursday night. Williams’ trademark is how she teaches math, most notably with rap songs, games and puzzles.
“Every day I see my kids, it’s a great day,” she said. “It’s a joy to see their enthusiasm, especially when they see instant success.”
As a student, Williams said math was not always her strength, but she learned from teachers who were hands-on and creative in their teaching style. So as a teacher, she decided to replicate those styles to make math something, “they can touch and feel, because math is not limited to a textbook.” She also learned to embrace change in things like a graphic calculator, and how important it is to take a risk.
“I was going to make math fun, and figure out a way for all students to understand,” she said. “I’ve taught gifted (students), this year special ed (students), English as a second language, (and) with the range of students I’ve had all these years, how can I help these students understand using a variety of learning tools.”
Summerour Principal Dorothy Jarrett said Williams’ style is evident as soon as someone walks in her classroom.
“Ms. Williams has the students up and moving around engaged at different learning stations,” Jarrett said. “She makes math relevant to their lives. She simply knows how to make it fun.”
Williams said the focus should be on her students, because she’s simply a facilitator, and she looks for what kind of path each student should take. But she’s proud to note that she’s had students pass classes for the first time and do well on standardized tests.
“My goal is to always inspire,” she said.
Williams is among the most senior three teachers who were chosen as finalists, all with 13 years in education. The other three teachers each have eight years. For Williams, passion means more than experience.
“We’re always learning as teachers, even though I’ve been teaching this long, sometimes I feel like a new teacher because there are new initiatives, we’re always learning just like the students,” she said. “We’re all passionate about our field and doing what we enjoy. That’s what matters, it’s not the number of years.”
Williams’ emotions when she learned she was a finalist could have been a release after she was a finalist at her local school for five straight years. And she’s not sure how she will react on Thursday, except that she’s a “gumbo of emotions,” leading up to it; from nervous to anxious, to losing sleep.
“We have some really hard-working teachers in the county,” she said. “We have a great relationship, and I’m just as happy for them as they are for me. I’m just honored to share an evening where I won’t have to grade papers and have more than 15 minutes for lunch.”