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Teacher of the Year Finalist Finds Passion in Math

Deborah Johnson, an eighth grade math teacher at Berkmar Middle, believes she's making a difference. Today she learns if Gwinnett County Public School's thinks her hard work deserves the district's top honor.

Deborah Johnson spent a good deal of her college years not knowing what career field she wanted to go into.

The Michigan native wavered -- from elementary education, to engineering, then actuarial science, finally landing on math. And, it was during a stint as a teaching assistant in college that she learned that teaching math was what she should be doing.

It's only been five short years for the educator, but already she's garnered the respect and attention of her colleagues at Berkmar Middle School and Gwinnett County.

Today, she learns if the work she's done to help her students succeed means a new accolade -- Gwinnett County's Teacher of the Year. Even her family is excited. Her mom plans to be at tonight's ceremony.

"My parents are thrilled," Johnson said. "They were just excited that I got Teacher of the Year for my school. So, then as it kept going through the process every time they were getting more and more excited."

At first, Johnson said her parents were nervous about her moving away from home -- never mind that her sister is nearby in Lawrenceville. But now that her career is sailing along, they are more at ease.

Johnson knows that she could not have gotten where she is without the support of her Berkmar Middle School family, especially the other math teachers who have collaborated with her to push students toward excellence.

Just being a finalist is not just an honor for Johnson, but she adds that it also says much about the entire school.

"I think that our staff in general, just the culture that exists at Berkmar Middle School, really allows our students to be successful because our staff can be successful with each other."

Johnson prides herself on being innovative, making numbers come alive and holding expectations high for every student. She doesn't turn off her job, she said. Ideas sprout even when she's cleaning up around her house.

"I'm not a worksheet type of teacher," she said. "I prefer to make it into something that they are excited to do."

That, among other things, is what makes Johnson stand out to Kenney Wells, principal of Berkmar Middle School. It makes sense that others would see it, too.

"Knowing what I know about her desire for students to achieve, it did not surprise me that she was recognized as our Teacher of the Year," he said, "and when I saw that she made the top 25 in Gwinnett, I knew that it was only going to be weeks away truly that she'd probably be recognized as the top six finalists.

"She is a stellar teacher that is teaching bell to bell everyday, every moment of the day and ensures that every student has what they need to be successful, and that is a hard thing to do."

Whether Johnson is named the the top educator this year, it's been Johnson's honor to teach. It's something she sees herself doing for many more years to come.

For other young teachers, she gives this advice: Take risks.

"Ultimately, it comes down to you and your students and what you're doing with them," she said. "Try the lesson that's a little bit out of the box, and you'll learn from it, but that's how you really grow as a teacher."

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