Over her last eight years at Adairsville High, Kaylie Noe has seen her fair share of "Joellens" and "Joshes."
She described "Joellens" as the smart, witty and motivated students who already come to classes "at a 10." In short, they're every teacher's dream student — dedicated to their schoolwork, open-minded about learning and well-behaved inside and outside the classroom.
And then there are students like "Josh," one of Noe's more memorable Spanish I students.
"He wasn't college-bound. Honestly, I didn't even know if Josh thought he was going to graduate from high school," she said at Thursday morning's Eggs and Issues event in Adairsville. "He walked into my class the first day [and] he says 'I don't want to learn this Mexican.'"
Josh was prone to falling asleep in class and constantly told Noe that he didn't "need" to pass the class. In fact, for him, school was nothing more than a reprieve from a troubling home life.
"'I'm just looking for a hot meal,'" the youngster told her. "'I'm looking for a place to get away from my family that's kind of messed up.'"
It was then that Noe decided Josh was going to be "her kid" that semester. "He was going to be that one that I was going to make sure that he got through," she recounted. "And if nothing else, he knew that I loved him and that he could be successful to anything he set his mind to."
She made Josh sit right next to her desk. Seemingly every class she had to remind him to do his schoolwork — and to stay awake during lectures. But with some motivation from his teacher, Josh managed to pass the course.
"He might have passed with a 69.45, but he passed," she recollected. "And he knew that was because he did it. It wasn't anything that I did, he did it."
The winning formula, Noe said, isn't that complicated. "When you expect more, they'll deliver," she said. "And that relationship piece is key. Josh didn't think he could do it, but he knew I believed in him so he's like 'I'll give this a shot' and then he surprised himself."
The Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce breakfast sponsored by United Community Bank was Noe's first major public speech since being named the Bartow County School System Teacher of the Year last month — an honor that came on the heels of Noe being named the Adairsville High School Teacher of the Year, to boot.
"To be able to represent Bartow County is just amazing for me," she said. "If you get recognition from your peers, that is just affirmation that you're doing something right, even on those days you feel like you're not."
Encouraging others is Noe's forte outside of the classroom, too — she's also the Tigers' head varsity and competition cheer coach.
"Going from a program that was pretty much nonexistent at the competitive level to qualifying at state each year for seven years running is amazing," she said. "Last year we were region champs, third in the state. This past year we finished in the top four at region and then made it top six in the state."
The role, Noe said, has certainly provided her with many learning experiences of her own.
"They have taught me so many more lessons than I think I've ever learned in school or at work," she said. "And I get to deal with a bunch of hormone-ridden teenage girls from about March to November, so it's fun."
Throughout her stay at Kennesaw State University, she worked as a substitute teacher at Adairsville. After graduating with a B.A. in modern language and culture in 2010, she was hired as a full-time AHS Spanish teacher. Today Noe is the chair of AHS's Foreign Language Department — she teaches Honors Spanish and, beginning next semester, AP Honors Spanish.
She said she wanted to be a Spanish teacher since her freshman year at East Paulding High, where she took classes under Tonya Simmons.
"She's small, but she packs a punch," Noe described her No. 1 inspiration. "Little did I know this woman was the reason I decided to become a Spanish teacher … she made me excited to learn, she made me want to come to class, and for a high school teenager to be excited to come to school and be excited to learn was a big deal."
As an instructor herself, Noe said she wants her students to feel just like she did in Mrs. Simmons' class — loved, appreciated and valued.
Considering her competitive nature, it's not surprising that Noe wants to see her students perform well on exams and quizzes. But perhaps more important, she said, is that she strives to make her kids "successful contributors to our community."
While Noe said she's thrilled over Adairsville High's 91.2 percent graduation rate, she also said she doesn't want to see that number increase by lowering academic standards and student expectations.
"For some of the kids in this community, their greatest accomplishment is going to be walking across that stage at graduation, so we make sure that happens," she said. "But sometimes, we let some of the more important things go to the wayside. Maybe we lower expectations because we know Josh can't meet that expectation, but we want him across that stage. And I'm guilty of that … we might lower standards because we want the greater good, right?"
And that, Noe said, is the catalyst for what she describes as a drastic "shift in the focus" at AHS.
"We're transitioning from your typical school to a professional learning community," she said. "We're going to work collaboratively, because collaboration is key. We've decided there's some things that we need to improve — we need to improve literacy … we've got a lot of kids in our schools that don't read on grade level."
That "shift," Adairsville High Principal Bruce Mulkey affirmed, would be substantial.
"You guys are going to see some changes that are going to come down after Christmas we hope that are approved by the board, and some of those changes may seem controversial on the surface," he said. "But they are really, really good things for our students, and we have a lot of buy-in from our staff across the system."
Other aspects of that transition to a "professional learning community," Noe said, includes a renewed effort to close student achievement gaps and promote college preparedness.
"We're trying to prepare them outside of their four core area and their [career and technical education] classes and their fine arts," she said. "We want them to be prepared for life outside of high school."
Which brings things full circle to Josh.
"A couple of years later, I got a random message on Facebook," she said. "He searched me out and he said, basically, 'Mrs. Noe, you know, I didn't go to college,' [but] he graduated high school."
Josh ended up getting a job working on a pipeline — and apparently, that "pointless" Spanish I class wasn't so "pointless" for him after all.
"All that silly Spanish you taught me actually paid off because I work with a lot of Hispanics," he messaged his old instructor. "I just want to say thank you for being a great teacher."