Bartow County’s new Teacher of the Year originally didn’t want to be a teacher.
Suzanne Morse, a U.S. history and economics teacher at the Bartow County College and Career Academy, was named the school system’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year Nov. 5 at a banquet hosted by the Bartow Education Foundation.
“It was really exciting,” she said Thursday in her classroom. “I really did not think I would win for the county. I’ve only been teaching for seven years, and this is only my second year in Bartow County, so I thought, surely someone with more experience and more time in the county than me would win. So I was very excited and honored to be recognized that way.”
Morse — who’s received all kinds of gifts, including a watch, gift cards and gift baskets, from local businesses — said it was “just crazy to hear them call your name.”
“It’s a big deal to win at the district level,” she said.
BCCCA Principal/CEO Dr. Paul Sabin said he’s “obviously very proud” of Morse for winning the district honor.
“And more importantly than really how it makes me feel is I’m proud to have such a good example of what quality instruction and quality teaching is about,” he said. “She’s just a great teacher, a great person, really has all the attributes that you look for in educators, starting with she really cares about students. ... As far as being a member of the college and career academy, that’s just added positives, but really it’s more important to me that somebody with her integrity and her experience and the things that she brings to education is representing Bartow County.”
While she played “school” like most little girls did during their childhood, Morse had no desire to be a real teacher when she grew up.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to be a teacher,” Morse, 31, said. “... It was my senior year, and I had completed all my credits, and I had to have something to take so they put me in a class called Teaching as a Career. I complained and whined to the teacher, to anyone who would listen, and she paired me with a special needs student and made me help her and work with her on all her projects and things like that.”
Little did she know that student would change her whole perspective.
“About midway through the semester, the teacher — she teaches at Cass [High] now, Amanda Wilbon — said, ‘You’re going to be an awesome teacher one day,’ and I said, ‘I think you’re right,’” she said. “And that was pretty much when I decided that was what I was going to do.”
Because of the connection she felt with that student, Morse spent the first five years of her career teaching special education at Rockmart High School.
“When she would get things right, when she was able to do something or finally grasp what it was that we were learning, her reaction was just so much joy at something so simple,” she said. “A regular student or honor student would take for granted getting the right answer on a quiz or something, but for her, it was just the biggest, most exciting thing every time. That’s why I just really felt if I could help kids like her have that every day, then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Morse, who lives in Cartersville with her husband, Joe, and 2-year-old son, Jack, said the kids “are definitely the best part” of her job.
“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through sometimes, and there’s always something new that you need to do or something we need to implement, but seeing the kids really get it and forming bonds with them and helping them grow, especially at this level — you get to kind of see them grow up and mature — that’s really rewarding,” she said.
While she went to college to be a history teacher, Morse found herself teaching special education economics at Rockmart to fill a need there.
“That was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on an economics curriculum, other than as a student, and I loved it,” she said. “I fell in love with it then, and if I had my pick, that would be all I taught all day.”
Morse said she prefers to teach economics now “because econ is so applicable.”
“We teach it to seniors, so they’re getting ready to go out in the world and have to do things that the economy affects every day,” she said. “So they can see more application to it than ‘here’s what happened in the Civil War; here’s what happened in Vietnam,’ things like that. They see it more practically, so it sometimes makes them more engaged in the learning process.”
The educator earned a bachelor’s degree in history education from Kennesaw State University, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Valdosta State University and an educational specialist degree in curriculum and instruction from Liberty University. She currently is in the educational leadership program at Berry College, “and this is the end,” she said, noting she has “no time” for a doctorate.
Morse now moves on to represent Bartow County in the state competition, which will name the Georgia Teacher of the Year in May 2016.
“I feel confident in my abilities,” she said. “I feel pretty good about it. I wouldn’t know what I’m up against, so to speak, but I feel like I really work hard to develop a curriculum for my kids that not only teaches them the content, but also tries to make it relevant for the world that they’re living in and ways that they can use it. So I think I probably have a pretty good chance.”
She doesn’t want to say that she really wants to win, “but I really want to win,” she said, adding she’s “super-competitive.”
“Being that I’m in the leadership program, this might be my last year in the classroom, and so if I don’t win now, I’ll never get a chance,” she said. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
Morse also believes being the district winner — and possibly the state winner — will open a lot of doors for her.
“In teaching, if you don’t want to go into administration, this is it,” she said. “There’s no real upward growth, so to speak. Given that I want to go into administration, I think that being able to have this accolade on my resume, I think that will be really, really good.”
The school system named Morse and two other Teachers of the Year — Kathrine Hewlett of Euharlee Elementary and Scott Thomas of Woodland Middle — as district finalists Oct. 20, and the trio competed for the district-level designation.
“Each of these educators displays professional character and a passion for teaching that caused them to be noticed by their peers,” Superintendent Dr. John Harper said in a press release. “The interaction in the classroom between teacher and student is the heart and soul of what we do every day. I applaud our finalists for the outstanding job they do and for their dedication to our students.”
The selection process, which took two months, started with each school choosing its Teacher of the Year. Through an application process, an impartial group of educators from Reinhardt University selected the three finalists from the schools’ candidates. Finally, the Reinhardt committee observed the finalists and determined the district winner.
Hewlett, who has spent her 14-year career at Euharlee Elementary except for one year at Mission Road Elementary, said her goal as a teacher is for each of her students to know “that I care.”
“I care about them while they are in my class and as they continue their education,” she said in the release. “The work ethic that I try to establish can carry them all through life. And at the end of the day, I hope they will remember those hugs and words of encouragement because I care.”
Thomas, in his 11th year at Woodland Middle, was shocked to hear he was named a finalist.
“It is a real honor for me that my peers selected me as our school’s Teacher of the Year,” he said in the release. “There are so many deserving teachers at our school and within the system. Being selected from among so many great teachers is very gratifying and a validation that I am making a positive impact on our students.”
The remaining elementary school Teachers of the Year for 2015-16 are Mark Wendland of Adairsville, Matthew Bowen of Allatoona, Allison LaRue of Clear Creek, Karen Farr of Cloverleaf, Heather Misztak of Emerson, Mia Gilstrap of Hamilton Crossing, Nicole Desrosier of Kingston, Lisa Bunch of Mission Road, Tonya Chatman of Pine Log, Brandi Stewart of Taylorsville and Jenna Johnson of White.
Middle school Teachers of the Year are Breanna Lee of Adairsville, Simon Moon of Cass and Mary Frankovsky of South Central.
The Teachers of the Year for the high schools are Jonathan Cudd of Adairsville, Jerome Black of Cass and Kristine Norris of Woodland.