The Georgia Teacher of the Year 2022 is Georgia Southern University alumnus Cherie Dennis (’10) who has lived and studied across the country, from Washington, DC to San Francisco, Calif., And s ‘is based in Savannah, where she began a career in teaching. than 12 years ago.
Dennis, originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, went to Georgetown University to earn an undergraduate degree in Japanese with a concentration in language teaching. She continued her education at Stanford University and obtained an MA in East Asian Studies. Her goal was to teach Japanese, and that was all going to be until just a few weeks before graduation, when the scholarship went down the drain for a high school exchange program she was supposed to. work in Washington.
“I looked for jobs teaching Japanese in schools in California, but it was too close to the start of a new school year, and there aren’t as many positions available to teach Japanese as there are. there are other languages, ”she said. “I had to start looking for another type of job.
Dennis searched for related jobs in Japan and, over the next several years, worked for advertising agencies with clients like Toyota and Clorox, in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“I don’t regret my time in advertising,” Dennis said. “It was fun and stimulating.”
After taking time off to be a close stay-at-home mom in Savannah, she saw an opportunity to return to her original dream of being a teacher. Dennis enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Early Childhood Education Program at the Armstrong Campus of Georgia Southern in Savannah to earn an initial certification in teaching.
She began her career as a third grade teacher at White Bluff Elementary, and a year later moved to Hesse K-8 School where she taught third grade for six years before moving on to the teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).
“I love to teach,” she says. “This career makes me feel good.”
Working with an average of 60 children per year, Dennis teaches ESOL students from Kindergarten to Grade 5, focusing on their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills in English. Virtual learning during the pandemic was an added challenge for many of these students.
“This is an additional barrier for ESOL students,” she explained. “The need to provide family support has been magnified more than ever before. It has always been at the heart of what ESOL teachers do, but when families do not have internet access or understand technology or English homework so that they can help their children as much as they do. would like. , reaching and teaching our students who are already facing the difficulties of learning in a language that is not essential to them is becoming more and more complex.
Fortunately, Dennis’ passion for foreign languages has helped her communicate basicly with students and their families, as she knows basic Spanish in addition to Japanese.
“The needs of students each year can be very different from the year before,” she said. “It’s a challenge, and it involves knowing who your children are and differentiating and individualizing teaching to meet their needs. “
For the next year, Dennis will continue to collaborate with her ESOL team in Hesse, but as Georgia Teacher of the Year, she will focus on the responsibilities that come with the title, such as serving as an ex officio member of the Board. of State Education and Travel as Education Ambassador to Georgia.
“I am becoming a spokesperson and a voice for teachers, students and families in Georgia,” she explained. “I will also be responsible for traveling the state and speaking at various events such as conferences, workshops, new teacher orientations or professional development sessions to share my experiences.”
As the state’s Teacher of the Year, Dennis will be in the running for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers. The NTOY is announced each spring.
“I am really touched and flattered by this award,” she said. “I don’t do what I do alone, and what I do is just one piece of the puzzle of what educators as a whole do,” Dennis said. “I can think of so many teachers going above and beyond every day, especially since COVID. Teachers have dedicated their hearts and souls to giving their students what they need to the best of their ability under the most difficult circumstances. It’s wonderful to have affirmation for the work I have done, but I feel the need to share it with everyone who has been with me along my journey and with whom I continue to work every day. day.