At the head of the class
Forsyth, Fulton honor top teachers of the year
Behind every successful student is a great teacher (or a few such individuals) who inspires that student to achieve excellence in the classroom. Each year, the Fulton and Forsyth county school systems select the best of the best to represent their districts as the teacher of the year. The 2012 top teachers are Anna Aigner-Muehler of Forsyth County and Pamela Haight from Fulton County.
Forsyth County Teacher of the Year | Forsyth Central High School
By ALDO NAHED
The first day of German class at Forsyth Central High School, Anna Aigner-Muehler dresses in full Austrian costume.
Some may think she’s, “a little nuts,” said Aigner-Muehler, selected as Forsyth County’s Teacher of the Year for 2012. But she gets her lesson across.
“This is a wonderful profession. It’s truly a calling,” she said.
Aigner-Muehler grew up and attended Forsyth County schools; graduating from South Forsyth High School, where she was valedictorian.
“I have deep roots in this system and deep roots and connections with the teachers who’ve made me — and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They’ve made me, and Forsyth County is part of who I am.”
After graduation from the county, she got her Bachelor’s degree from Agnes Scott College and a Master’s from Leslie University. She started her teaching career as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Austria and returned to Forsyth County in 2000 and joined Central HS.
“I am, simply put, a born and bred, dyed-in-the-wool, natural teacher,” she wrote in her essay submission application.
Aigner-Muehler was chosen from 34 teachers who were selected by their schools to represent them in the county level. Using scores from the essays and interviews, a selection committee narrowed their search to three finalists. The two other finalists were — Antoinette “Toni” Sullivan, an art teacher at Coal Mountain Elementary School and Tracey Heffelfinger, a math teacher at Little Mill Middle School.
Rudy Hampton, principal at Central, said Aigner-Muehler brings culture to the classroom, practicality and relates to the students.
“She integrates technology into teaching,” said one student about Aigner-Muehler style. Another said: “She interacts with us, instead of sitting at a desk.”
Fulton County Teacher of the Year | Alpharetta Elementary School
By CANDY WAYLOCK
A fifth-grade teacher at Alpharetta Elementary for four years, Pamela Haight knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age.
“When I was in fifth grade, I spent every morning reading with kindergartners,” said Haight, a product of Fulton County Schools from elementary through high school. “I loved every second of it. At Christmastime, the teacher gave me my first ‘teaching ornament,’ which I still have to this day.”
A graduate of Milton High School, Haight went to the University of Georgia, graduating summa cum laude in early childhood education, followed by a master’s degree from Kennesaw State University. She infuses her classroom with constant activity, with the sounds of children singing and laughing coming through loud and clear.
“Maybe you’ll see my fifth-graders standing on chairs, acting out ‘Hamlet,’ or dressed all in black with berets reciting original poetry,” she laughed. “We are different, but we like it.”
Haight does not have a drama background – something most people assume she does – but traces her love of performance to her childhood.
“My parents took me to see ‘Annie’ one time, and [after that] I would stand up in public places and sing ‘Tomorrow’ at the top of my lungs,” Haight said, laughing at the memory.
Haight believes students are motivated when learning is fun. She was frustrated by how students struggled to learn material in her class, yet could recite all the words from a Justin Bieber song just a day after it was released. She began mixing popular music with her class material and students quickly began learning the parts of speech through tunes such as “The Lazy Adjective Song,” a tribute to a Bruno Mars song, or “Adverbs Modify Verbs,” a parody to a Willow Smith song.
While many teachers are focused on a future that includes a climb up the administration ladder, Haight, whose mother still works as a third-grade teacher, is completely content in the classroom.
“[In five or 10 years], I’ll probably be doing the same thing I’m doing right now: teaching in a classroom during the day and sitting in a classroom taking professional development classes at night,” said Haight. “It’s hard for me to imagine not working directly with kids.”