More than 245 teachers were nominated for the AJC Celebrating Teacher awards. These are the winners, who were honored tonight at an event at Cox headquarters. Winners are, from left, Cicely Lewis, Carrie Beth Rykowski, Margaret Garth, Robert Katz, Chelsea Cook, Jason Carr, Celeste McNeil Clark, Stephanie Spencer and Kara Cowdrick.
Photo: Daphne Yuan/AJC
Photo: Daphne Yuan/AJC

Rather than criticize teachers, let’s celebrate them for a change

I wrote earlier this week about a new poll that found the majority of parents don’t want their children to become teachers. And even with four out of five parents supporting teacher strikes for better pay, the poll by Phi Delta Kappa International still showed a drop in confidence and trust in public school teachers. 

My article about the poll prompted the usual sniping in the comments about teachers abusing students and working only 10 months. And how the profession attracts people who were average or below students themselves.

I wish those commenters could have heard the nominating letters for the 10 metro teachers who earned AJC Celebrating Teachers Awards tonight. The contest drew more than 245 nominations, which were reviewed by professors from Mercer and Clark Atlanta and an official with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

One top 10 winner could not be on hand. Emily Lamos of Elkins Pointe Middle School in Fulton County is battling an aggressive form of leukemia. The parents of a student nominated her for the award, describing how Lamos sat with their son in the hospital after he suffered a grand mal seizure in her classroom.

A co-worker nominated Jason Carr from Rocky Mount Elementary School in Cobb and shared student comments about the beloved media specialist, including, “He knows the answer faster than Google does.” 

Kara Cowdrick of Charles Brant Chesney Elementary in Gwinnett County just had her very first class of fifth graders graduate high school this year. She wrote each of the graduates to let them know how proud she was of them.

Cicely Lewis turned the media center at Gwinnett’s Meadowcreek High School into the hub and heart of the school. Her “Read Woke” challenge to students has many of them delving into books about social injustice and has drawn interest from librarians as far away as Norway. With the help of a local dress shop, Lewis staged a Prom Book Fashion Show in which students modeled gowns and shared books.

Meadowcreek High School’s Prom Book Fashion Show

I am going to stop here because I intend to feature each of the 10 winners in the next few weeks. But I want to note the common thread among the winners was going above and beyond for their students and their schools, from starting clubs to mentoring colleagues to coordinating schoolwide recycling. 

A teacher I respect -- probably one of the brightest and most inventive people I know -- commented on social media how upsetting it was to read the comments on this blog. She wrote: 

Why? Why did I read the comments? EVERY. TIME. it makes me so sad. Why do the commenters on this Blog HATE teachers? I'm working my second job that goes until 9:10PM...It is so disheartening. I guess we're all greedy, lazy, health-insurance subsidized by the state union lackeys. If that's so, I want my union dues back because I'm not seeing the benefits

I am not sure where this hostility toward teachers comes from or why other countries hold the profession in higher esteem. Many critics probably haven’t been in a school for years to see what teachers do. I hope sharing the stories of these 10 dedicated teachers will help them do so.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey is a longtime reporter for the AJC where she has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy for...