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​Column by State School Superintendent Richard Woods: School visits to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Month

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As Teacher Appreciation Week – which is now, officially, Teacher Appreciation Month in Georgia – approached, I knew that in addition to our other efforts to thank teachers, I wanted an opportunity to meet with some teachers in person, shake their hands and say thank you face-to-face. 


Earlier this month, I visited Mrs. Barbara Landreth at Newnan High School, one of the longest-serving teachers in the state of Georgia. Mrs. Landreth has been an English teacher for 53 years, and has taught in the same classroom at Newnan High School for 51 of those years. She’s an institution in her community and has taught everyone from current Newnan High teachers to country music star Alan Jackson.


Speaking with Mrs. Landreth, I got a chance to say thank you for everything she has done and the generations of students she’s impacted. I was also able to speak with her about the ways education has changed during her years in the classroom, and the ways she’d like to see it improve.


Then, two weeks ago, I visited Dobbs Elementary School in the Atlanta Public Schools. I walked the halls and briefly said hello to each teacher, shook their hands, and said thank you. I didn’t want to take up too much of their time, as it was the middle of the school day; I just wanted them to know how grateful we all are for their service.


What I saw at Dobbs was instruction that carried on until the very last days of school – teachers using every minute of instructional time they’ve been given to benefit their students. What I saw at Dobbs, in and out of the classroom, was a school that has become a family. When I walked into one classroom, my highly knowledgeable student tour guide proudly introduced me to one of her schoolmates and told me he has battled cancer, but is now cancer-free.


Later the school’s principal, Dr. Charnita West, told me about her school’s involvement in Relay for Life – this year they raised $1,000 for cancer research. Dr. West told us this: “I want my students to understand that when they are receiving instruction each day, their teachers are preparing them to be the next generation of medical personnel and science researchers who WILL find the cure for cancer. They are indeed our hope for the future.”


Make no mistake, Dobbs Elementary has not had an easy time of it. That’s why I decided to go there – to thank them for persisting, even in the hardest times, on behalf of their students. 


I wish I could have thanked every teacher in Georgia personally. Ultimately, though, the best way to thank teachers for their service is by supporting education policies that allow them to close their doors and do what they do best – teach. That’s what I’ve worked to do during my time as State School Superintendent, and I will continue to support personalized education over standardization, a decreased emphasis on testing, standards that make sense, and measured, responsible teacher accountability.


During my visit to Dobbs, I got to meet every teacher in the building, along with support staff and many, many students. I have said frequently that these visits are the best part of the job, and it’s true. This is where it happens – in the schools, in the classrooms, in these buildings full of people who become families with a common goal. When we make decisions about education, these families all over the state are the people we should have in mind. I will be thinking of them each day.​