Another great Georgia teacher: Angela Dean of Gwinnett

University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky has been writing a Great Georgia Teacher series for the blog. Here is another installment.

(His earlier profiles include David Ragsdale of Clarke Central High School in Athens and Travis Ellington of Toombs County)

By Peter Smagorinsky

Angela Dean teaches in Gwinnett County. (Special to the AJC)

Angela Dean teaches in Gwinnett County. (Special to the AJC)

In sports, a well-rounded athlete is often described by having multiple “tools” with which to play the game. The more tools, the more contributions the player is likely to make. In baseball or softball, for instance, a five-tool player excels in hitting for a high batting average, hitting for power, running the bases skillfully and with speed, throwing the ball with authority, and fielding his or her position with range and efficiency. Five-tool players can often be found in All Star Games and eventually in the Hall of Fame.

Although teachers these days are evaluated according to how high their students’ test scores are, the teachers who sustain schools over time are those who approach their work as multiple tool faculty members. These teachers are the heart and soul of every school, the ones that students come back to visit when they return home after graduation and thank them for their contributions to the quality of their education and the impact on their lives. They come back to visit and give thanks to teachers like Angela Dean.

Young Angela Battaglia attended East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg from 1993-1997, where she played soccer. As a soccer player she lettered for three years, and as both a junior and senior was named by her coaches as team captain. The respect accorded by her coaches, and undoubtedly her teammates, is characteristic of how the people around her have always responded to her.

The breadth of Angela’s contributions to her schools — for over a decade, Collins Hill High School and now Mountain View High School, both in Gwinnett County—is breathtaking, especially to those familiar with the time it takes to do any of her work well, much less all of it. Read about the degree of her commitment to her schools and communities, and let me know if the first thing you’d look at when evaluating her performance is her students’ test scores.

Angela is a former athlete who has coached—in her case, soccer. She was the assistant women’s coach at Collins Hill from 2002-2006 and then head JV coach from 2006-2012, after which she accepted a transfer to Mountain View. Now, every coach will tell you that without good players, you won’t have a great record, and I know from my own coaching days that there’s more to high school sports than winning. Still, winning tends to follow from outstanding coaching during practices and games. Did Angela win? Her career record as head JV coach was 58-12-7, with a Region 7 and 8 championship in 2009 and a second place finish in 2010. Surely she had talent; but just as surely, she coached ‘em up real good, as coaches say.

Another tool that Angela brings to her teaching career is her involvement in the community. Angela has been the primary organizer of several events that have benefited the Suwanee area beyond what goes on in her classes. She organized events in which genocide survivors from Sudan and Nazi Germany came and spoke to students after school and in Collins Hill classrooms as a way to help them get a more concrete understanding of these atrocities.

She also developed, planned, and oversaw annual school-wide “open mic” poetry slams for students that helped raise funds for Haitian earthquake survivors, Duchenne muscular dystrophy research, the Darius Goes West organization, and an after-school program for children of refugee families. Normally, after-school events are attended primarily by students who have a strong affiliation with school, but Angela sought to include students from across the school’s whole demographic spectrum, from gifted to special education, to help them share their unique views of the world through their poetry. The goal of this activity was both to raise funds and to provide a forum through which students from outside the school’s social and academic core could find agency through their voices.

Events of this sort promote student involvement in school, link the school curriculum to poetic forms that are youth oriented, help students develop a sense of community and school affiliation, and ultimately provide much-needed money for worthy causes. Her community involvement extends beyond these events and the organizational skills they require. She’s also worked, quite literally, at the grass-roots level, picking weeds and preparing soil for a community garden and cleaning trash from a cemetery in Athens, where she lives. She’s willing to do the dirty work when there’s dirty work to do.

Another sign of great teaching is respect from other teachers. Although still in her early 30s, Angela has established herself as an instructional leader in her schools. For the last few years, she’s taken on a number of leadership positions on the CHHS faculty, from organizing a group of English teachers for collaborative planning, to participating in the Instructional Leaders Academy of Collins Hill High School, a group that works through reading and group discussions and peer observations to improve teaching throughout the school and county through cross-curricular collaboration.

The professional reading in the Instructional Leaders Academy is just one part of the ongoing learning that Angela seeks about how to be a more effective teacher. In 2011, she was accepted as a Holocaust Educator Fellow as one of 24 participants from across the country to explore and discuss Holocaust education in the secondary and post-secondary classroom in New York City. In addition, Angela has been a Fellow and Teacher Consultant for the Red Clay Writing Project at UGA since 2007, an activity she built into her master’s degree coursework after she earned her bachelor’s degree at the same institution. She has reciprocated by mentoring UGA’s teacher candidates during their student teaching, a key assignment that suggests a high degree of confidence and trust from her university colleagues.

This ongoing learning has involved Angela as a producer as well as consumer. She has made presentations at the annual conferences of the National Council of Teachers of English and National Writing Project, as well as at local conferences and at the Red Mountain Writing Project in Birmingham, Alabama. More recently she has written instructional material that has been published in educational books by Heinemann, the field’s leading publisher of instructional resources.

Many people who complain about teachers point to the short working hours and vacation time without realizing how much time teachers—especially English teachers and others who assign and grade writing thoughtfully—work with students and evaluate their work outside class. As Angela shows, most great teachers also use their summers for professional learning. As a teacher of a good 165 students a day, Angela spends a lot of time grading student writing, when she’s not doing all of the other things that make her such an asset to her school.

At CHHS she also worked overtime as a mentor to students for both academic and behavioral performance, helping to keep at-risk students on track to graduate and taking time to discuss their concerns, study skills, interpersonal skills, and other areas that help them navigate school successfully.

In case you’re wondering, Angela’s also one heck of a classroom teacher. At CHHS she was Teacher of the Month in May 2006 and in 2010 was a top three finalist for the school’s Teacher of the Year, out of a faculty of nearly 200 teachers. One reason that Angela continues to grow as a teacher is that she conducts research on the impact of her own teaching, focusing on adolescent literacy practices and family-school relationships. The recognition from her peers and administrators suggests that Angela makes a lot of contributions to her school, all of which are appreciated by students, colleagues, and administrators, none of which would count toward her performance evaluation if Arne Duncan and friends have their way.

One thing I’ve always found about great teachers is that they get frustrated when teaching decisions are taken out of their hands, and the curricular sequence and details are outsourced to a centralized teaching script of the sort that textbook publishers and other edupreneurs are rushing to develop in conjunction with the new accountability movement.

Great teachers want to use their knowledge to design effective instruction and teach in relation to their good judgment. In other words, contrary to the image of the lazy, over-privileged, overpaid, dim-witted teacher, great teachers want to work more, not less. Angela’s approach to instruction requires careful attention to what her students need to know, and how best to provide them with what they need. This sort of attention requires her to consider each student as an individual with unique needs, not another assembly line product in the effort to make all students look the same.

To achieve this sort of relationship with her students, she spends a lot of time outside class planning instruction and evaluating student work. She also spends time outside class reviewing her teaching log to see what she could be doing better. On top of that, she’s coached a demanding sport, helped to mentor students at risk for not graduating, created dynamic after-school programs, served as a faculty instructional leader, conducted research to improve her own teaching, and made invaluable contributions to the mentoring of student teachers.

Five tools? I count at least 7 for Angela. Take that, A-Rod. And Angela does it all without steroids. How do you measure that? Ask her students and their parents, and her colleagues and administrators, whose admiration for her many, many contributions to her school community have resulted in such appreciation and respect.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

24 comments Add your comment

Finally like reading ajc

September 27th, 2012
6:46 am

Can she be cloned? I have to say my three kids in the Gwinnett Couny School System have had fantastic teachers. Maybe 10% should not be teaching.. But the 90% did a great job. Keep up the inspiring work Ms. Battaglia.

Finally like reading ajc

September 27th, 2012
6:48 am

Oh… Best Wishes… She got married!!! Keep up the good work Mrs. Battaglia Dean!!

Ed Johnson

September 27th, 2012
7:23 am

“How do you measure that?”

Yup. The most important things indeed cannot be measured.

Thanks, Dr. Smagorinsky, for bring us Angela Battaglia.

bootney farnsworth

September 27th, 2012
7:25 am

keep in mind, according the many who post here she’s:

a parasite
overpaid
has a cushy job
easily replacible by less trained human
part time worker
always on the go to conventions
doesn’t really contribute anything
gov’t paid leech
ungrateful (that one always tickles me)
unnecessary
easily replaced by automation
lazy
unqualified to work in “real life”
in a union
hates America
should have her pay cut

and sadly, all these opinions of educators, and worse, are found daily right here

bootney farnsworth

September 27th, 2012
7:26 am

remind me again how people like her are just in it for a paycheck.

based on actual contribution to the state of Georgia, she should be making more than Deal, Millar, and the USG combined

Pride and Joy

September 27th, 2012
7:39 am

So nice to hear! Love it. A GOOD PART OF THIS piece would be nice to hear the accolades from the kids she taught. If you are one, please posst your thoughts. would love to hear how she does it so I can emulate her ideas and tools at home.

bootney farnsworth

September 27th, 2012
7:39 am

@ Dr Pete

do you only look at primary school teachers?
I can recommend some amazing teachers at GPC for you to explore.

Michael Moore

September 27th, 2012
8:18 am

Every time I hear such stories of Georgia teachers I always think of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron where the Handicapper General ensures the laws of equality are equally enforced. We handicap teachers like Angela with test prep curricula, lowered expectations, blame for social problems that they and schools can not possibly solve, and soon, teacher assessments that will never get at what makes Angela so effective. When the solution has always been right in front of us…let Angela teach. Good job, Peter.

Peter Smagorinsky

September 27th, 2012
8:34 am

Bootney, please drop me a line at smago@uga.edu if you want to make recommendations. If you want to remain anonymous, I’ve got a comment box set up at http://smago.coe.uga.edu/Comment_Box/feedback_form.html that masks your identity (you can use my email address instead of your own). p

Dunwoody Mom

September 27th, 2012
9:13 am

What a marvelous and inspirational story! Thanks for posting Maureen. It’s always good to hear the positive about our teachers!

dc

September 27th, 2012
9:23 am

neat stuff, and there are so many more like her throughout gwinnett county schools. Now, let’s figure out a way to reward them with more pay and recognition (ABOVE the average folks, not just increasing everyone’s pay, and thus making it not a reward for the outstanding teachers).

claytondawg

September 27th, 2012
9:56 am

Angela is a great teacher and person who has the kids’ interest at heart. There are many more teachers just like Angela; the public doesn’t seem to care nor want to know about them. Being a teacher myself, I enjoy reading and hearing about other teachers who do so well. Great teachers–you’re out there and it’s too bad the typical public does not recognize you.

Michele

September 27th, 2012
10:03 am

What an exciting article. I completely agree with you when you say “they get frustrated when teaching decisions are taken out of their hands, and the curricular sequence and details are outsourced to a centralized teaching script of the sort that textbook publishers and other edupreneurs are rushing to develop in conjunction with the new accountability movement.” This is precisely why I decided to retire this year. All the freedom of teachers to teach to their strengths is being taken away. I truly believe that every teacher in every classroom should be different. Variety in the kinds of teaching a child receives also helps the students succeed when they get into a diverse society they surely face in the future. This sounds like an unbelievable teacher who truly deserves the recognition. All I can tell her is to keep fighting the system that tries to “cookie-cutter” all teachers down.

LoganvilleGuy

September 27th, 2012
10:11 am

Congrats to Ms. Dean for making a difference.

As I’ve said before in this blog, I am not a teacher and would never want to be. However, I have a unique perspective because my job deals with working almost entirely with at-risk kids and deal with teachers on a daily basis. I watch them constantly try and figure out a way to reach at-risk kids. However, many of these kids are more worried about where their next meal will come from, whether they will be abused, whether they will join a gang and so many other things that distract from school. Yet, the general public that can’t appreciate the challenges slam teachers for being ineffective and failing.

September 27, 2012 Headlines | TalkGA

September 27th, 2012
10:32 am

[...] Congrats Angela Dean! [...]

Georgia Coach

September 27th, 2012
12:49 pm

Professor Smagorinsky, thanks for these inspirational pieces. They are remarkable.

Just Wondering...

September 27th, 2012
1:06 pm

She’s definitely an inspiration, and it sounds like she does great work with her kids. But I can’t help wondering how she would do if she taught at Meadowcreek High School instead of Mountain Park. Would her enthusiasm for learning and excellence make a difference for an at-risk student there? Would she find herself overwhelmed by the problems those students face (poverty, language, etc.) Would she volunteer as much in the Norcross community as she does in Suwanee?

Either way, keep up the good work Ms. Dean!!!!

Jordan Kohanim

September 27th, 2012
3:28 pm

Wonderful to see this! Thank you Ms. Dean and Dr. Smagorinsky. Very heart-warming.

New on coeNEWS | COE fyi

September 27th, 2012
5:16 pm

[...] teacher and COE alumna Angela Dean in the “Get Schooled” blog in the September 27 Atlanta Journal Constitution. This entry was posted in New on coeNEWS by mdchilds. Bookmark the [...]

Dekalbite

September 27th, 2012
5:18 pm

How to attract and retain great teachers like Angela Dean should be the main objectives of every school system. What an inspiring post!

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

September 27th, 2012
5:52 pm

Inspirational story! Thanks!

Ed Johnson

September 27th, 2012
7:20 pm

“Now, let’s figure out a way to reward them with more pay and recognition (ABOVE the average folks, not just increasing everyone’s pay, and thus making it not a reward for the outstanding teachers).”

Please, will this ever stop?

Ole Guy

September 28th, 2012
12:53 pm

Ya know, it’s great that we recognize professional dedication and excellence. However, in doing so, we just may be doing a disservice; ireparable damage to the teachers…certainly the vast numbers of teachers…who are, in their own right, qualified; well-qualified to ply their trade, as it were. In awarding these accolades…well-deserved, to be sure…we inadvertedly place the “under-the-educational-radar-but-still-quite-competent” teachers…the ones who do a tough job under tough circumstances. yet, when we see these teachers in the shadows of those who “walk on educational waters”, we tend to label them as less competent than the winners of accolades.

In the mean ole world of work, many managements look upon the awarding of these accolades…deserved or not…as motivational tools; often times as “title-in-lieu-of-raise” gimmicks, and not just a few times, as managerial feel good mechanisms.

I certainly do not wish to cast rain upon the celebratory parades of deserving teachers, however, I often wonder if all this may contain a degree of unintended consequence. Perhaps more than a few of us, at one time or another; upon learning of a colleuge’s winning such an award, we may have wondered something along the lines of “Why him? Why not so-and-so? Hells bells, I work X times harder, produce more, and what do I get”? I am quite certain there are more than a few folks out there who, upon learning of a peer receiving an award, we may have taken a hit on the morale front.

Ed Johnson

September 28th, 2012
8:34 pm

@Ole Guy,

Thank you, thank you, thank you!