Wednesday March 29th, 2023 4:00PM

Hall County teacher named finalist for 2023 Georgia Teacher of the Year

By Austin Eller News Director
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Susan Howard, a STEM teacher at Lanier School for Inquiry, Investigation and Innovation in Hall County, has been named a finalist for Georgia's 2023 Teacher of the Year.

Howard said she felt humbled and honored to be chosen as one of the finalists.

"I've been teaching for 12 years, and I have worked with so many fantastic educators that have really shaped and made me the teacher that I am today," Howard said. "I also want to say, to God be the glory."

State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced the 10 finalists for this school year on March 7, 2022. A press release from the Georgia Department of Education said finalists were chosen based on the strength of their essay responses. The winner will be announced on April 30, 2022.

While Howard said she believed teaching was her calling, she did not know she wanted to be an educator while she was growing up.

“It was a realization that came to me in college, I was given the opportunity to teach at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and it was conversational English,” Howard said. “I just kind of fell in love with leading learners, and I felt called.”

Howard has taught in Greene County, Oconee County and Hall County. She said the 2021-2022 school year marks her second year in the Hall County School System.

Howard and her husband settled on moving to the northeast Georgia area due to proximity to family members and their church, a move which she described as a “leap of faith.”

“I drove around on a very rainy day, and my last stop was Lanier,” Howard said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to stop. I was tired from driving … all around Hall County and a few other districts, but I felt a calling to stop.”

Lanier’s principal, John Wiggins, called Howard in for an interview. During that interview, Wiggins said he believed Howard would be the perfect person to start the STEM program at the school.

“My mouth dropped,” Howard said. “It was a dream come true.”

Starting up a STEM program from scratch was an exciting challenge, according to Howard.

“There was no teacher here that preceded me,” Howard said. “I had to really just beg, borrow, not steal materials, consumable and non-consumable things, items that my students could use for projects. Thankfully I am at a wonderful school that supported me.”

Howard said teachers fresh out of college will likely encounter challenges in their careers, but those challenges are worth overcoming to teach the world’s future leaders.

“I remember this from when I was a first-year teacher: a lot of times we feel like we are shortchanging the students because we don’t have the years under our belt or enough time in the classroom,” Howard said. “I just want them to know that they are so relevant to our kids. They keep us, the veteran teachers, relevant and up to date with our students. I just want them to know … don’t give up. Stick with us. We need you.”

Likewise, Howard said the world still needs veteran teachers who have years of experience under their belt.

“I want the veteran teacher to know that we still need them,” Howard said. “I think we get to our 30 years, and though they have totally earned their retirement, we still need them if they’re willing. My first three years of teaching I would not have survived if it had not been for a veteran teacher who came back and helped me.

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