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2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year named

May 19, 2016 – Casey M. Bethel, an AP Physics, AP Biology and Physical Science teacher from New Manchester High in Douglasville, was named the 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year today, during a surprise school visit from State School Superintendent Richard Woods. As Georgia Teacher of the Year, Mr. Bethel will serve as an advocate for public education in Georgia.

"Casey Bethel is going to be a great representative of the teaching profession in Georgia," Superintendent Woods said. "His passion for education is evident in everything he does, and the impact he has already made on students is clear. I can't wait to see the impact he makes statewide."

 Mr. Bethel planned to become a cardiovascular surgeon. Although he excelled in all his classes, and to date holds the record for the highest exit exam score for biology majors at his undergraduate institution, his dream of becoming a doctor did not bring him satisfaction.

While studying genetics in graduate school, he became a research scientist at the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Genetic Technologies. He felt his happiest instructing undergraduates during labs and, because of that experience, he decided to become a teacher.

"I turned to education, and I never felt so alive," Mr. Bethel wrote in his application. "As a first year teacher, even though I was exhausted every evening, I could not wait to get to school the next morning for one more chance to inspire the next generation."

Mr. Bethel is a part of the Georgia Intern Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. This program provides a paid summer STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) internships in industry workplaces and university laboratories for K-12 science, mathematics, and technology teachers. For the past five summers, Mr. Bethel has conducted authentic biochemistry research aimed at finding cures for inherited Glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Bethel credits this collaboration with broadening his instructional tools to teach concepts and techniques to high school students. Because of his work, he was awarded the Paul A. Duke award from Georgia Tech for lessons designed and published in The Journal of Chemical Education.

Mr. Bethel sponsors a male mentoring club at New Manchester called Project Manhood. Every Tuesday, upwards of 50 male students dress professionally to meet and discuss important issues. The club’s motto is “Succeed at School, Succeed at Life.” As a group they work on improving school culture and community service projects.

His classroom mantra comes from a Chinese proverb that says: "Diligence is the path up the mountain of knowledge. Hard work is the boat across the endless sea of learning." He has reached the lives of his students, and his classroom is exciting, motivating, and inspiring, demonstrating his belief in the teaching profession.

As Georgia Teacher of the Year, Mr. Bethel will represent Georgia teachers by speaking to the public about the teaching profession and possibly conducting workshops and programs for educators. He will also compete for the 2017 National Teacher of the Year.

2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year Finalists (in alphabetical order by district)

Teacher, Subject, System, School

Martha Villanueva Milam, AP Chemistry, Chemistry

Coweta County, East Coweta High


Heather Cocke, English Languages Arts

Effingham County, Ebenezer Middle


Marlo Miranda, Automotive Technologies

Forsyth County, Forsyth Central High


Heather McConnell, Special Education

Gainesville City, Gainesville Middle


Jennifer Taylor, Science

Harris County, Harris County Carver Middle


Sara Jones Wilder, Fourth Grade

Lowndes County, James L. Dewar Elementary


Dr. Debra Russell, AP Biology, Magnet Biology, Anatomy and Physiology

Rockdale County, Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology


Michelle Courtwright Ashmore, AP U.S. Government, Comparative Religion and Economics

Troup County, Troup County Comprehensive High


Joseph Cody Moncrief, Mathematics

Valdosta City, Valdosta Middle