Shaun Owen circled the classroom, walking around a U-shape row of desks surrounding a projector. Operating on 2 hours of sleep, she exhibited an exuberance that seemed to infect her pupils.
Greenbrier Middle School sixth-grade social studies teacher Shaun Owen reacts with the boys in her class as the boys beat the girls in a daily geography competition. Owen was selected Columbia County Teacher of the Year.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"Can I get a 'Whoop, whoop?" Owen asked, to which 30 pupils echoed, "Whoop, whoop!"
On Friday morning at Greenbrier Middle School, the sixth-grade social studies teacher brandished the skills that won her Columbia County school system's Teacher of the Year award on Thursday.
In her classroom, several paper globes hang from the ceiling, the flags of many countries line all four walls and a message on the rear wall reads, "If you think social studies is boring, get ready to be surprised."
"A lot of students think social studies is boring," Owen said. "Social studies isn't boring. Textbooks are."
Owen, 34, approaches each lesson with the flair of an entertainer.
Often working into the early hours of the morning, Owen uses PowerPoint presentations in which she incorporates animation, maps, and video and audio clips to capture her pupils' attention.
Between slides of historical facts and maps, Owen interspersed a clip of a cartoon alien singing Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, a French recipe for stuffed eye of calf, and a picture of a car lying on its side between two other parked vehicles.
"That was when I first started driving," Owen quipped.
"The average middle schooler has about an 11-minute attention span," she said. "You sometimes have to show them something that gets their attention again.
"I want them to learn in a way that makes it fun for them. I know some people may think it's a little unorthodox, but my students' test scores are through the roof."
A graduate of Augusta State University, Owen originally studied to be a social worker. It wasn't until after she worked at a camp for deaf children that she found her calling as a teacher.
"I fell in love with those kids," she said. "After that, I couldn't imagine doing anything else besides teaching."
Originally from Gainesville, Ga., Owen found inspiration in her grandmother, Kathleen Murphy, who is a retired teacher and was the first woman elected to public office in Hall County after she won a school board seat.
"She worked with severely handicapped students," Owen said of her grandmother. "She got such joy out of her work. She knew what she was doing was special."
As the county's top teacher, Owen now goes on to compete for the state Teacher of the Year title.
In January, a panel of judges will narrow the field of participating teachers to 10 prospective candidates. The winner will be announced at a March banquet in Atlanta.
Despite the Teacher of the Year accolade, Owen said she never considered herself an award winner.
"I simply love to teach," she said. "My students are the most important thing in my life. You don't do this for the rewards by any means."
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