By Henry Bryant
The first thing I noticed when talking to Tracey Pendley on the phone was that she is very high energy. That no doubt had something to do with her being chosen as Teacher of the Year first at Burgess Peterson Academy in East Atlanta, then for the entire Atlanta school system, then for the entire State of Georgia. Due to the coronavirus crisis, she will continue to serve in those roles through 2020 and into 2021.
Throughout last year she traveled the state on a speaking tour, stressing the value of good teachers and discussing what they brought to her life as someone who grew up in metro Atlanta in less than ideal circumstances. Teachers were her mentors and role models. Pendley believes that when teaching is combined with the energy of a good teacher, magic occurs. It is a message that she will continue to share with others in the coming year and she is “thrilled to again have a platform to speak out about the lack of equity from class to class, from school to school, and from system to system. The goal is equity for every kid.” She feels that it is her responsibility to speak out about this issue, especially now.
The year 2020 has brought new challenges for teachers with the closing down of schools because of COVID-19. The shape of things for the next school year has not yet been set, but teachers and administrators have been planning on how to proceed in light of CDC guidelines and to ensure safety for children and families. Ms. Pendley is somewhat of an expert on distance learning and has been working with the Georgia Department of Education K-12 Restart Committees, focusing on distance learning strategies and practices, especially for students with special needs. She is also an advocate for better infrastructure so that students in every corner of the state can have access to the internet. Effective communication and creative teaching cannot occur if students are unable to connect to their classrooms or classmates because they cannot get online.
This past spring many students were unable to do that and had to rely on printed handouts from the school which were difficult to distribute. Pendley will work in the coming year with the National Teacher of the Year network and hopes for the possibility of a trip to the White House and a session at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
Besides serving as an advocate as Georgia’s Teacher of the Year, Pendley will continue her work at Burgess Peterson. In past years she has been a well-regarded fourth-grade teacher. In the coming year she will use her teaching skills and talents as a math instructional coach and also as a reading intervention instructor. Pendley believes that success in teaching and learning arrives by “helping each child to find his or her strengths” so that they can ultimately succeed as they move on from school.