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Emily Suber

Third grade teacher, International Charter School of Atlanta

Suber, who holds an undergraduate degree in English literature and a master’s degree in early childhood education with emphasis on international studies, was teacher of the year at ICS last year.

She did her student teaching abroad in Greece and loved experiencing another culture and teaching students English there, but that wasn’t her first up-close exposure to kids from other countries. Suber was a volunteer for refugee families through Jubilee Partners and helped families with skills needed to adapt to life in the United States. She also worked at a health clinic for immigrant families in Clarkston.

When ICS offered her a teaching position four years ago, she accepted immediately and remains enthusiastic about her career teaching kids who speak English as a second language or English speakers who want to learn a second language.

“I love watching those light bulbs go off when my students really get something, when they connect ideas and reach educational milestones,” she says.

Kids are learning about money, checkbooks, responsibility and accountability by earning “dollars” in her classroom when they complete school work or remember to get their parents to sign their homework; they lose “dollars” when they misbehave or forget to bring homework to class. They can use their bank accounts to write a check for a special privilege.

Her classes also are working on curriculum units about problem solving (to foster critical thinking and independence) and integrity (to do the right thing when no one is looking) – both “skills they’ll need when they are older.”

A Typical Day

6:45 a.m.: Arrives at school, after a commute from Duluth to Roswell.
7:15 a.m.: Kids start arriving for class.
7:45 a.m.: Morning classes begin. At ICS, third-graders spend half the day taking classes in English and the other half in another language – Chinese Mandarin, Spanish, German or French. Suber teaches math, science, English grammar, social studies, writing and other subjects in English for one group of students in the first half of the day and another group in the second.
10:40 a.m.: The second set of classes begins.
12:05 p.m.: Students have 30 minutes for lunch and another 30 minutes they can use for STEM or STEAM studies, physical education, art, music or just exercise and recess.
1:05 p.m.: Classes resume.
2:05 p.m.: School ends for the day, except on Wednesdays, when students are dismissed at 1:05 p.m..
3:10 p.m.: Teachers can leave school, but most usually stay an hour or two after class working on lesson plans, meeting with other teachers, grading papers and preparing for the next day.
5-5:45 p.m.: Suber usually heads for home after 5 p.m.
7-8 or 7-9 p.m.: She spends another hour or two at home finishing up school work.

Larisa Pender-Healy

High school biology teacher, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Pender-Healy, who holds a bachelor of science in marine biology from the University of California Los Angeles and a master of science in biology from Georgia Tech, is in her third year of teaching at Mount Vernon. She lives on a farm in Serenbe with a furry family – two pigs, a chicken, three dogs and three cats.

Until Pender-Healy was finishing up work at Georgia Tech, she’d planned to be a chemical ecologist or a college research professor. “I was working with an army of undergraduate students and discovered I liked working with students … and I thought I could make a bigger impact in high school than as a college research professor,” she says.

Her Mount Vernon students are motivated learners, so her biggest challenge is “getting students to not focus on grades as the ultimate reward but to realize solving a problem is the biggest reward.”

One problem her students have worked on is designing a biomedical tool to remove plaque from arteries without harming the arteries; they recently presented their ideas at the Georgia Tech Showcase for Bioengineering. Another class is tackling global warming solutions; another is studying DNA by solving a “murder case” at the school.

“I aim for a majority of our time together that the students are driving the questions and doing science as much as possible to learn science,” she says.

A Typical Day

6:10 a.m.: Leaves for school.
7 a.m.: Arrives at school.
7:30-8:30 a.m.: Students can see her for help with projects or class work, except on Tuesdays, when faculty meetings are scheduled.
8:30-9:40 a.m.: First block of 70-minute classes; perhaps a biology class or students working on an IProject (innovation project). Classes change every day, and she never covers the same material in all her classes on the same day.
9:40-10:25 a.m.: Community time. Students choose what they do – study quietly, get help from a teacher, work on creative activities such as art or music, work on a project or get active in the gym. Teachers are available to help.
10:25-11:35 a.m.: Second block of classes.
11:35 a.m.-12:35 p.m.: Lunch and enrichment for students. Teachers typically bring lunch or grab a quick bite in the cafeteria and get back to their classrooms to help students.
12:35-1:45 p.m.: Third block of classes.
1:50-3 p.m.: Last classes of the day. Teachers are in the classroom for three blocks of classes a day, and use the fourth for lesson plans, grading tests or reading student papers and preparation.
3-3:30 p.m.: Time set aside to talk with students who need advice or help with projects.
3:15-4:15 p.m., two Tuesdays a month: Faculty meetings.
4:30-7 p.m.: Arrives home; feeds the critters; makes dinner.
7-9 p.m.: Homework for school – lesson plans, paperwork, grading tests, reading student papers and other tasks.

Roberto Llopart

Sixth grade English teacher and dean, The Walker School

Llopart, who has a bachelor’s degree in communication with additional teacher certification in language arts, is in his second career, the one he feels he was meant to have.

He’s worked as a production assistant at CNN and as an account manager for autotrader.com. The past 13 years, 12 years at The Walker School, he’s been a teacher, and he coaches the middle school basketball and high school football cheerleading squads, the debate team and assists with the middle school girls’ soccer team.

He discovered his calling when he became a mentor for a DeKalb County high school student, though he’d suspected it when he volunteered at McKenna Farms Therapy Services with kids with special needs and as a mentor with Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services.

“I am passionate about teaching,” he says. “We are shaping young lives. … Because of the structure of Walker, I see kids from about 3 years old to 18, and get to watch and guide and facilitate their growth. Having the opportunity to be in these kids’ lives – that’s awesome.”

Middle school for many kids can be challenging. “It’s not just academic content we’re dealing with, but social and emotional development, all these changes,” he says.

A Typical Day

7:15 a.m.: Arrives at school after a 20-25 minute commute from Atlanta.
7:15-8 a.m. Monday-Friday: Grabs coffee and writes instructions on the classroom board. Responds to emails from colleagues, parents or students.
7:15-7:50 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays: Coaches debate team.
8-8:55 a.m.: First class.
9-9:55 a.m.: Second class.
10-10:30 a.m.: Advisory period where he meets with students for character education.
10:35-11:30 a.m.: Another class.
11:35 a.m.-noon: Lunch and lunchroom duty. “I get to eat lunch with the kids – it’s great,” he says.
12:05-12:30 p.m.: Sixth grade study hall. Kids also can come for academic assistance, complete homework, or discussions/affirmations about their daily experiences or can choose to have recess.
12:35-1:25 p.m.: Another class.
1:25-2:20 p.m. and 2:25-3:15: Back-to-back planning periods (depending on the schedule rotation), though students often come to consult.
3:30-5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday: Cheerleading practice.
7:30 p.m.-9, 10 or 11 p.m. on Fridays: Football games; with an away game, he might get home at 11 p.m.
Sundays at Starbucks: He reads and grades student papers for four to six hours.

Heather Upton

Kindergarten teacher, Saint Thomas More Catholic School

Upton, who has an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s degree in early language and literacy and is certified to teach special education, started work at Saint Thomas More as an assistant teacher when she was still an undergraduate.

She joined the faculty in 2006 and taught second grade for 10 years, before switching to kindergarten three years ago. Upton lives in Tucker with her husband and goldendoodle Ginger, a therapy dog who is a “furlunteer” for Grady Health System’s Dog Therapy Program and also visits with kids involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“Teaching kindergarten is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” she says, “because everything is hands-on, all the time, nonstop. And you have 25 kids from all different backgrounds, some who’ve been to kindergarten and know their letters and numbers and some who’ve never left mom’s living room. You have to balance the needs of all the kids.”

No two days are alike, she says. Some start smoothly, and some begin with tears or a child with an upset stomach. Every day includes movement interspersed with learning – rhythmic clapping, dancing, games – because kids that young can’t sit still for long periods of time. And every day has rewarding moments, especially in January.

“They come back from Christmas break, and you can see the change,” Upton says. “The first half of the year, we’re teaching them how to learn and by January you can see their joy as they really start to put it together.”

A Typical Day

7:15 a.m.: Arrives at school.
7:45 a.m.: She collects the kids who’ve been dropped off at school and takes them to her classroom.
7:45-8:05 a.m.: Other kids trickle in and they start the day with free play, choosing from games and activities.
8:15 a.m.: Morning meeting with the kids; everyone sits in a circle and she explains what they’ll be doing that day; they practice counting and find out if anyone is missing; kids get to tell anything to the group they want to share.
8:20-9:20 a.m.: Math block. The whole group has a mini-lesson then they break into smaller groups, some playing a game, or reviewing material or writing numbers.
9:20-10:20 a.m.: Parent conference, meetings or student assessments.
10:20 a.m.: Kids have a snack brought from home.
10:30-11:30 a.m.: Literacy block. Kids have a whole group mini-lesson for about 20 minutes then break into groups focusing on reading, writing and spelling, usually with movement mixed in.
Noon: Lunch
12:30-1 p.m.: Recess with kindergarten, first and second grades involved in unstructured play.
1-1:45 p.m.: Rest time during first half of the year; some kids nap, others look at books or write. In January, rest time transitions into a 45-minute writing block.
1:45-2 p.m.: Second recess.
2-2:30 p.m.: Science and social studies.
2:30-3 p.m.: Religious block with Catholic prayers or stories from the Bible.
3:15 p.m.: Students dismissed.
3:45 p.m.: Except on Wednesdays, teachers can leave school but most do not. Wednesday faculty meetings end at 4:15 p.m. On other days, Upton holds parent-teacher conferences or does school work until 4:15 or later.
7-9 p.m.: Frequently does lesson planning at home.

A Day in the Life of an Atlanta Teacher
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