Jennifer Foil, a social studies teacher at Holcomb Bridge Middle School who was recently named Fulton County Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, unwittingly found herself inspired by her school’s motto, “Excellence: Whatever It Takes.”
“When I first began teaching here, I didn’t give the motto too much thought. Yet, as the months flew by, I found myself continually going back to that motto not just with my students, but with myself,” she said. “What did that mean to me?”
Foil says that it was by looking at her students and understanding their individual, specialized learning needs that she realized how to achieve excellence. She signed up for professional development workshops, such as a Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) program for teaching ESOL students, and sought any opportunity that might provide additional knowledge and experience in teaching her diverse students. She found that while the extra skill sessions helped her reach her struggling students, they also helped her become a more effective teacher in general.
“From my teaching, I have realized that although students come to my classroom with diverse needs and past experiences, the key is to see each child as an individual who has the potential to learn and love it,” Foil said. “Rural, urban, white, Hispanic, ESOL, special needs, rich, divorced family, happy and healthy…the root of why I teach is to find ‘the beauty’ in each child regardless of their background and to help them discover and develop it as well.”
As time continued, Foil has discovered what excellence means to her. “I see excellence as having a classroom where all students are engaged and loving to learn,” she said. “I see excellence as a classroom that students want to be in and feel safe. I see excellence as increasing student achievement.”
Foil joins two other system teachers as the best in the county this past school year, including Shelby Steinhauer, a Milton High School teacher who was named High School Teacher of the Year and Overall Teacher of the Year, as well as Franklin Burns from Spalding Drive Charter Elementary, who is the system’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
"These three teachers will serve as examples to their Fulton County colleagues for the next academic year," Fulton County Schools said in a written statement.
The outstanding educator recognitions occur each spring based upon teacher, staff and parent input. The teachers are then evaluated a second time and one elementary, middle and high school teacher of the year is announced. From these final three educators, one is chosen as the Fulton County Overall Teacher of the Year.
A formal gala will be held next fall to honor Foil and her fellow top educators for their accomplishments as well as those of other employees of the year who were selected by the local school communities.