Camelot Teacher Profile: Kathie George
Kathie George is completing her second year teaching math and reading to 9-12 graders at Camelot Academy of Escambia County in Pensacola, Florida. The University of West Florida graduate was recently honored as Camelot Academy’s Teacher of the Year at a district-wide event in which one teacher from each school was recognized. Like so many Camelot teachers, Ms. George finds teaching alternative education students especially rewarding.
What was your reaction to being named Teacher of the Year?
I never expected it at all. It was a very nice surprise and an honor. We had a banquet with all the teachers of the year. I really appreciated having our executive director Mr. Stem there as well as (director of education) Ms. Jewett and (director of operations) Mr. Maxwell.
With your outstanding skills, you certainly have your choice of where to teach. Why teach at Camelot rather than at a main stream school?
I feel like it makes more of a difference here than at a mainstream school. I have had students in 10th and 11th grades who didn’t know their times tables when they arrived here. There’s a gap of time missing in their education for a few years and they’ve missed all that. And for whatever reason, whether it’s their behavior that got them in trouble or maybe they were in school and didn’t ask for the help that they needed or weren’t getting the accommodations that they needed, so I feel like when they come here there’s more of an opportunity to get to those children. By the time students leave my class I want to get them to a point where the demands of the world and their abilities can meet each other.
You teach students who come to Camelot with a very wide range of academic skills. How do you accommodate them all in your classes?
With some of the students you have to take a step back and very slowly work up to the algebra or geometry that the grade level calls for and where they need to be.
I try to do more one on one with students who are way behind or we do peer tutoring with them – putting a strong student with a not-so-strong student and they work together. That actually helps the more advanced student practice because they’re getting more experience with the subject and concepts as they’re explaining it.
Are graduates from Camelot ready for post-secondary?
Definitely. That’s where the struggle is in the classroom. I have some students who are off the charts academically. They get great grades; they do all the work and they thrive. Something has obviously caused them to be here. There are plenty of extremely smart kids in this building. They just don’t have the behavioral structure in the regular public schools that we have here to keep them focused and doing well.
What is about the Camelot environment that makes it easier for these students to learn?
It’s the structure. Students have the same schedule every day. They have the same team every day. The expectations do not change from day to day. What I expect from you on Monday is the same thing I expect from you on Tuesday. It’s almost as if everything is in order and everything has its place. That means they don’t have the choice to do what they want, when they want to.
Our students come to us with their problems. They will tell me their stories one to one. I will use my planning period to make time to talk with them and I think that helps me understand them so I can understand why things are the way they are. It also helps me figure out how to approach them better if I know them better, rather than in a public school where there are 1,200 students. Here I have the ability to get to know them.
Can you speak to the challenges your students bring to school with them?
Some of these kids’ stories would break your heart. I couldn’t deal with some of the issues these kids deal with. None of our students have the benefit of a nuclear family. I don’t think we have a single student who has their mom and their dad living in the same house. And some students aren’t even living with either one of their parents. I’ve got a set of boys whose mom is in jail and dad is a recovering crack addict. They shift around from one relative to another but even with that they are capable and they come to school every day and they both want to learn. And that’s why you don’t give up on them.
Is there a class project that stands out for you as special or effective?
This is funny because it’s not a math or reading project, but we take time out of one of our periods for what we call Group Guided Interaction. For one, we did “Personality Pigs.” You tell the students to draw a pig and they all spend their time drawing their pigs and making them as pretty or as ugly as they want to. And then I analyze what they’ve drawn. So the size of the ears tells how good a listener they are, and which direction their pig is facing tells them something else and how many legs their pig has says something else. The kids loved it. Everybody had a pig and I lamented them and put them on the door and everybody was very proud of their pig!