Cacti are dispersed through Rebecca Carlisle’s AP World History classroom at North Gwinnett High School. She uses them as a metaphor for students. She challenges them to stick it out when life gets prickly.

Carlisle explained to a packed ballroom at the Infinite Energy Center what has driven her to be a compassionate teacher during her decade-long career.

“(Teachers) know what it’s like to be poured into, so we want to pour into (our students),” Carlisle said.

At the finale of the annual Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year banquet, Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO and Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks announced Carlisle as the 2020 Teacher of the Year. Carlisle was one chosen from a group of six finalists. She was also recognized as the High School Teacher of the Year.

Vivarine Argilagos of Lovin Elementary School is Gwinnett’s 2020 Elementary School Teacher of the Year and Brad Zickefoose of Radloff Middle School is Gwinnett’s 2020 Middle School Teacher of the Year.

Carlisle has spent all 10 years of her education career with GCPS. Before teaching AP World History at North Gwinnett, she taught Georgia and World History at Pinckneyville Middle School. She’s also a native of Grayson. Her parents flew in from Florida on Thursday to support her. They were scheduled to fly back home later that night.

Her dad, she said, rescheduled the flight.

“There are so many people in the top six and in this room and at North Gwinnett High School who do incredible work all of the time,” Carlisle said. “I just think there are so many amazing people here that teach me something every day, and I’m so grateful.”

Carlisle teaches in North Gwinnett’s STEM program called CHARGEnorth, where she teaches AP World History blended with humanities as part of a teaching team.

She sponsors clubs and works with students after the last bell rings at North Gwinnett. Through the Beta Club she’s helped students lead, design and implement community-wide events like Trunk or Treat — an event that benefits North Gwinnett Co-Op, which provides food and clothing to families in need. She has also coached cheerleading and been an academic coach for the North Gwinnett basketball teams.

Carlisle felt a need to support new teachers with a more enhanced and structured New Teacher Program. She went to school leaders who paired her with another teacher to address those needs. She said she worked to create a program that goes beyond helping teachers know their way around the building. The North Gwinnett program supports new teachers in implementing best instructional practices by arranging monthly meetings to discuss specific evaluation areas that coincide with the district’s Quality-Plus Teaching Strategies.

Carlisle looks forward to being able to spread those initiatives to masses with her new platform.

“My most important message all the time is ‘Invest in each other,’” Carlisle said. “Don’t hide in your room, mentor somebody. It’s all about the new teachers. That’s what’s going to bring you the most joy and revive your passion, if you invest in somebody else.”

The selection process began at the start of the school year when 139 teachers were selected from thousands throughout the district who are nominated for the award. A selection committee narrowed the group to 25 semifinalists, and finally to the six finalists — Carlisle, Argilagos Zickefoose, Amber M. Simmons of Brookwood High School, Ellen Hill of Dyer Elementary School and Anthony Dramis of Hull Middle School.

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Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories about the county in which he grew up.

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