Teacher of the Year

 Donna Vining

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Donna Vining

My earliest childhood memories are of my sister and I sitting in our grandmother’s lap as she read to us; books like Stone Soup and Anne of Green Gables. We got a book almost every birthday and Christmas. She also read her bible every night before bed and as soon as we were old enough to read, she would have us read it to her. Any subject I showed interest in, she encouraged me to learn more about it. I had a thirst for learning and that all stemmed from her influence. When I was thirteen, she encouraged me to be her assistant, teaching Sunday School to four and five-year olds. By the time I was 17, I was teaching Sunday School and directing our Christmas plays at church. I had no clue what I was doing but it was a great learning experience! I thought I was going to become an anthropologist when I graduated and learn more about the behaviors of our ancestors and who we are as human beings.  I remember my grandmother telling me that she didn’t know what in the world an anthropologist was but she had always thought I would be a great teacher. Well, when you have a grandmother like I did, you don’t want to disappoint.  

I graduated high school and headed to Gordon College to pursue a degree in teaching. I received an associate degree from Gordon and then transferred to Georgia College and State University. It was there that I realized how much I wanted to be a teacher but also how much I didn’t know! We were split into cohorts and given opportunities to collaborate with each other. One of my favorite memories of that experience was the sharing time our cohort leader would allow us to have at the beginning of each class. She encouraged us to do the same with our own students to help build relationships and community. Those two years, we shared our hopes and dreams, our failures and triumphs, the joy of marriage, birth of a child, and even the pain of death. I carried that experience with me into my teaching career.  

It has always been a goal of mine to make sure that my students feel safe, secure, and loved in my classroom. I strongly believe that in order for students to perform at their highest level, they need to first feel loved and that their voice matters.  Have I always done a great job at this? No. I have done a lot of growing up throughout my 15 years of teaching with the help of my best friend Clover Harris who I had the pleasure of teaching with for 12 years.  She kept me in check, pushing me to look past my anxieties as she encouraged me to pursue more in my role as educator. I have also had fabulous veteran teachers like Susan English, Eveline Butler, Traci Thompson, Patty Boylan, Patty Gunn, Kay Dean, Cheryl Fulghum, and Angel Nauck to name just a few, that saw my potential and counseled me and, by their example, taught me more than they will ever know. My students have been my most important influence.  These precious babies have taught me to be more compassionate, more understanding, more flexible, more attentive, more open. I believe that teachers have to be open to change in their teaching and be aware and mindful of their students' needs. Our world is changing every day and these current times show us that our students need us now more than ever. They need teachers who will fight for them, advocate for them, listen to them, and love them. My goal is to be that teacher for my students. It’s a goal I'm still working towards, but one I intend to strive towards every day.  

I am so honored and humbled to have been chosen by my peers as Teacher of the Year. The faculty and staff at PCES are the best and they put in 110% each and every day. To be considered for this honor in the backdrop of so many great educators, is a privilege. It is an honor I do not take lightly and one I will continue to work hard to be worthy of and represent. I am thankful for my friends and co-workers in the special education department that have welcomed me this year with open arms and helped me transition into my new role. I am eternally grateful for my family that have been my biggest cheerleaders and whose love, prayers, and support I could not do without.  

My grandmother’s favorite bible verse was Matthew 23:37. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing.” I always wondered why this verse was her favorite but never had a chance to ask her. I believe that she must have loved the imagery of Christ wanting to gather his children under his wings as a hen does to her chicks; to protect them and care for them. I think it’s also a beautiful metaphor for how I feel about my role as a teacher. It’s not a job for me, but a calling. God has called me to be a teacher and to shine his light and love to my students. I strive to do that each day and as a sweet friend of mine likes to say, “Leave behind the sweet smell of Jesus!” 

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10