LeLe Dean knew from a young age that she had a calling for education. As she watched her mother instill in others a passion for reading by selling World Book Encyclopedias, and listened to stories of the classroom from her grandmother, a high school teacher and later social worker, she was influenced to start her career in teaching, too.
Ms. Dean started teaching first grade in Twiggs County. She worked in Pre-K and para-pro positions at Westwood before starting first grade again in 2012. She received the Westwood ParaPro of the Year in 2011. Now, with 25 years in education, Ms. Dean was named the 2018-19 Dalton Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
Ms. Dean was announced the winner at the district's employee convocation on Aug. 1 at the Wink Theater. Shortly after thanking her colleagues for the recognition, Jason Denson with Ford of Dalton approached the stage with a giant silver key and the actual car keys to the year-long use of a new 2018 Ford Escape.
Mr. Denson addressed the theater full of DPS educators. "I have a lot respect for what each and every one of you in this room do for our children and our community each day," he said. "Growing up here and living here, this community means the world to me and my family, and I couldn't think of a better way to kick off this sponsorship."
Westwood Principal Scott Ehlers said this recognition deserves to go to someone like Ms. Dean. "LeLe is always thinking of ways to reach and motivate her students," he said.
Assistant Principal Marla Pridgen added, "LeLe is always so positive and trying new strategies with her students."
In her Teacher of the Year application, Ms. Dean said she is not comfortable with labeling herself an outstanding teacher, but she can share what she finds important and what she has learned from her peers and mentor teachers.
"As teachers, we are called to be difference makers in the lives of our students," said Ms. Dean. "As long as we can remember this, and remember how lucky we are to spend our days creating a passion for learning in our students, we are going to be successful in making a difference in the lives of children," she said. "If we remember to keep a good attitude and be joyful in our calling, we can continue to shine a light on the profession of teaching."
Ms. Dean said she feels fortunate to have found a district that emphasizes the importance of relationships in learning. She works on celebrating each child's individual strengths and talents in her classroom, so they feel valued and respected. "I've learned that once you've developed relationships with students based on love and respect, students are able to flourish," she explained. "My hope is that learning to work together and support one another will help my students become grownups who are difference makers."
Ms. Dean also discussed demonstrating to students the importance of being lifelong learners.
"As teachers, I believe we should be examples of lifelong learners. We should always be evolving to meet the needs of a changing world. We should be excited about learning new ways to engage our students. We should be willing to step outside of our comfort zone, to find ways to keep our students challenged and excited about learning."
Other school-level Teacher of the Year honorees include: Amy Norwood, Blue Ridge School; Julie Fischer, Brookwood School; Holly King, City Park School; Veronica Vital, Park Creek School; Lynnda Higgins, Roan School; Susan Jones, Dalton Middle School; Sheila Yarbrough, Morris Innovative High School; and runner-up Coulter Redding, Dalton High School.
Through sponsorships from Parrish Construction Company, Carroll Daniel Construction, J. W. Buckley and Associates, Inc., Georgia United Credit Union, Shaw Industries, Dalton Utilities and First Bank of Dalton, all school-level Teacher of the Year winners received $250, and Redding received an additional $500 as the runner up. Ms. Dean received an additional $1,000.