TJA teachers receive statewide honors

Students today are different than they were 20 years ago, TJA science teacher Amber Dowdy admits. And while many educators find the challenge of engaging them daunting, Dowdy says that’s one of the things she loves most about her job.
And she’s pretty good at what she does. In November, both she and fellow TJA teacher Amanda Brett were recognized as the GISA State High School and Middle School Teachers of the Year.
First they were nominated school-wide. Then there was an application process and both Dowdy and Brett were among the teachers from private schools all across the state who were chosen to come in for interviews. 
“This recognition is well deserved,” said Georgia Independent School Association Vice President Stan Whitlock. “They are both teachers who exhibit best practices in the classroom and have a willingness to share and collaborate with other educators. They are just phenomenal teachers.”
Whitlock is currently working with Dowdy who was named to the Master Teacher Class of 2017. 
“Amber leads by example,” Whitlock said. “She will actually be assisting me with the Master Teacher program this year. GISA is very proud of both Amanda and Amber and what they have accomplished this year.
Dowdy has been teaching for 15 years, 13 of which have been at Louisville’s Thomas Jefferson Academy. And while she has taught preschool, fifth grade, seventh grades as well, the last 10 years she has focused on high school students. 
“I’ve wanted to teach since I was a little girl,” Dowdy said. “That’s what I would get for Christmas: a grade book, chalk.”
Her sister and several cousins are all in education.
“I’ve never taught a grade I didn’t like,” she said. “I always see myself teaching something.”
She currently teaches physical science, biology, chemistry, honors anatomy and advanced placement psychology.
Her administrators and fellow teachers have said that one of Dowdy’s biggest strengths is her ability to form trusting relationships with her students.  
“She’s really able to communicate with them and help them understand that she cares about them,” Brett said of her fellow GISA Teacher of the Year. “And she’s very creative. She’s always coming up with projects for them to do or an interesting way to teach something. It really makes her stand out.” 
Dowdy said that once her students realize that she is on their side and they trust that she really wants what’s best for them, then they will often do just about anything she asks. 
“I don’t have discipline issues because they know I’ve got their back and that I want what’s best for them,” Dowdy said. “I really enjoy getting to know them.”
She said she really believes that every student can learn.
“I feel like it is my job to figure out how they learn and make sure every student in my class is getting what they need. It’s challenging, but that’s what I like about it,” she said. “I had one student who asked if instead of taking a quiz could he write a song about the subject. I said go for it. And you know he had all of the information in it.”
She is also a strong believer in providing her students with a comfortable environment that is as conducive to learning as she can make it. She keeps large exercise balls in her room for students to sit on and often rearranges the space so that they are not sitting in traditional rows or desks.
“I let them get up. I let them move. And I really want it to be comfortable,” she said. “The art work in here is all work they have done. I want it to feel like it is theirs, a place where they are free to be themselves. And they keep it clean because I think they think of it as their space. They stay on task.
“I want to find new ways to reach them. And I’ve heard people say they want to get out of education because the kids have changed. This generation isn’t the same. Well then, we have to change the way we teach. If they aren’t getting it the same way we’ve always done it, then we have to change. They are in here on their smart phones. I really try to make sure they are involved, active, up as much as we can be.”
Brett has been teaching for 11 years, six of them at Thomas Jefferson. She currently teaches four math classes and a history class. 
“When people name their least favorite subject, they name math,” Brett said. “And a lot of people don’t feel like they are going to use math later on in life. I had to think about it. I feel like this is important, but why do I feel like it so important? And I realized it’s not the math that’s important, it’s the learning how to problem solve. It’s the learning how to learn, because when you move on to college or into a job the most important skill that you are going to have is being able to learn new things and apply them to what you need. That’s exactly what they are doing.” 
Brett said that her philosophy of teaching has changed with the realization mentioned above. 
“It’s not so much what you are teaching as teaching the process of how to be a problem solver and a thinker,” she said. “I’m not just trying to get them to get a good grade on a test, I’m trying to get them to think for themselves.”
That being said, Brett admits that she actually loves math herself.
“It’s probably one of my favorite subjects to teach. I enjoy the kids. If you like people it’s a fun job, working with the students and your colleagues,” she said. “I just like the way it works out so nice and neat. If you look at my desk, it’s very disorganized, but the math is the orderly part of my life. I like the logic of it, the problem solving aspect of it. I really enjoy that.”
She said she liked teaching middle grades because she can really push students that age a little harder to apply the knowledge they’ve picked up to new challenges.
“Amanda has the patience of Job,” Dowdy said. “She is so kind. She never overreacts. She is very calm and thorough. Both of my children have had her as a teacher. She does her best to incorporate hands on for math. She’s fair in her grading. She’s great.”