Updated 8:13 a.m., Nov. 4, 2011
A learning disability as a student was no obstacle to a teaching career for Jennifer Dunn. Now the Pharr Elementary teacher also has a top award to add to her achievements.
Dunn was named ' Teacher Of The Year on Thursday at an honors banquet at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. She and more than 100 educators were part of the ceremony, and about 500 people attended.
"Always believe in myself," an emotional Dunn said afterward when asked how she overcame the dyslexia. Memories of students that "would laugh at me" drove her.
Also receiving top honors Thursday were Sarah Black of North Gwinnett Middle in Suwanee (middle school teacher of the year) and Aundrea Muth of Mill Creek High in Hoschton (high school teacher of the year). Dunn also was named elementary school teacher of the year.
Speaking to the audience from the podium, Dunn quoted Mahatma Ghandi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." She also thanked her husband for "helping me juggle this crazy life."
Dunn, a 1999 Brookwood High graduate, recalled when she first learned of her dyslexia. "That year ... for the first time in my life, I realized I wasn't dumb," she said in a GCPS news release. "(Her teacher) helped me to understand that I wasn't a failure, I just had a different way of learning."
Dunn now helps students who need additional support in transitioning from fourth to fifth grade. "I see myself in every one of them and take joy in building them up all year," she added in the GCPS release. "I love opening their eyes to the world of math, finding out how they learn, and watching them succeed."
Black of North Gwinnett Middle enrolled in an orchestra class in the ninth grade. "I remember looking at (her teacher) with great admiration, realizing that she had helped them accomplish something that at one point seemed impossible," Black recalled in a GCPS news release. "That was one of the most powerful, profound moments in my life, because it was the moment that I realized not only did I want to be a teacher, I wanted to be an orchestra teacher."
Added Black after the ceremony, "I was surprised (by her honor). I'm glad to bring some recognition to fine arts."
Muth of Mill Creek High said keeping students engaged is a priority. "Engagement happens when people are challenged by new ideas, when they create connections, and when they take ownership of their own growth," she said in a GCPS release. "Our classroom is a place where we actively learn, a forum for challenge and exploration, a safe haven for individuality, and an incubator for nuturing personal growth."
Among the prizes and privileges for Dunn will be a $1,000 yearly stipend as long as she remains in the Gwinnett system, and the use of a new car for three months. Black and Muth will receive $750 each year for as long as they are employed in the system.
GCPS Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks told the teachers after Thursday's ceremony, "You impact the future in unimaginable ways."