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Q & A With Casey Bethel: Reflections As Georgia's 2017 Teacher Of The Year

Over the past twelve months, Casey Bethel worked directly with the Georgia Department of Education and traveled throughout the state to speak to various groups and conducted staff development activities for other high school science teachers. He additionally served on statewide committees and attended and participated in numerous state conferences. In the spring, Casey traveled to Washington, D.C., along with the country’s other 55 state and territory Teachers of the Year, where he met the President and First Lady. 
With his term ending on July 1, we asked Casey to reflect on his time as Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. 
First thing's first—tell us about yourself.

I have been teaching for 12 years as a high school science teacher—biology, physics, physical science, chemistry (and one semester of high school English *LOL*). I hold a Master of Science in Agronomy from the University of Georgia and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Fort Valley State University. I spend my summers conducting authentic experimental research in a biochemistry lab at Georgia Tech. 

What do you love most about teaching?

Teaching is by far the most rewarding profession. I derive immense fulfillment from helping young people to achieve the academic and career goals. Since I teach high school, I stand at school-career interface for many students. After they leave my class, I wait with eager anticipation to see what they become. It gives me such joy!

What did you learn about education as Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year?

Being Georgia’s Teacher of the Year afforded me the opportunity to visit schools and classrooms across the state. In every school I visited, I met some amazingly talented and relentlessly committed teachers. Likewise, I met some brilliant, awe-inspiring students. Now, I am even more confident than before that education in Georgia is headed in the right direction. Sure, there are challenges that demand our attention, as well as room for growth in some important areas. Yet, we are producing some remarkable outcomes for most of our students. And as we continue to probe best instructional practices while increasing emphasis on educating the whole child, we will see even higher levels of student achievement. 

You recently visited Washington, DC, with the other teachers of the year. What was that like?

It was a tremendous honor to travel to DC representing the hard work and incredible accomplishments of Georgia’s 115,000 educators. As I stood behind the desk in The Oval Office, I balanced the feeling of responsibility with the overwhelming pride I felt in representing us. That moment, I stood there for every teacher who spends the weekends planning lessons, who tutors on their lunch break and stays late grading papers. I wished there was enough room for all of us. In DC, I also visited both Georgia senators and a few of our congressmen, carrying the message that “while education in Georgia is making great strides, we need more resources to improve STEM, attack early literacy and do the other things necessary to push us even further forward.” Finally, during the week, I received valuable professional development from agencies like the US Department of Ed., ASCD and the Smithsonian Institute. I came home more equipped to do my part in elevating teaching and learning for all of Georgia’s stakeholders. 

What was your favorite aspect of being Teacher of the Year?

My favorite aspect of this experience has been sharing my passion for student engagement and student empowerment with teachers all across Georgia. I hope to have motivated my colleagues to keep "fighting the good fight" and to push through difficult moments with unwavering focus on the goal of attaining 100% success for every student, everywhere.  

Will you be returning to the classroom this upcoming school year?

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed meeting students all across the state, I am looking forward to the direct connections and sustained relationships with students that come from classroom instruction. I can’t wait to share my experiences with them in ways that energizes them to set high aspirations and stretch toward their own goals.   

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about becoming a teacher?

Teaching is the most rewarding profession in history. There is nothing more fulfilling than witnessing the "light come on" for a student who understands something difficult for the first time while knowing that you helped to make that happen. Plus, education equips young people to be leaders and problem solvers. So, by becoming an educator you can help to build the better, brighter future that we all hope for. Teaching is the best way to make a difference. Join Our Team!