Kilough Elementary School teacher of the year Hillary Mullinax found her calling in an after school program.
The teacher who began as a pre-med major while at the University of North Georgia was working in a daycare center helping students with homework.
"Working as the homework teacher in that after school program opened my eyes to the spark that teachers see every day," Mullinax said. "My major was switched to education quickly after that."
While at North Georgia, she was placed at Kilough for field work and says that the school shaped her in so many ways.
"Little did I know then that this school and its teachers would become part of my family," she said. "I have modeled myself after many of them and learned so many valuable lessons from them."
According to Kilough Principal Tracey Compton, Mullinax has become a model for her peers as well.
"Hillary Mullinax is an amazing teacher," Compton said. "She maintains a wealth of knowledge in curriculum, assessment and best practices. She serves as a role model and mentor to fellow teachers."
It is not only the relationships with other teachers that earned her the teacher of the year distinction, but also her connection with students. She does that by discovering common interests and she works diligently to find that with each student she has.
"Even students that are not interested in you or school whatsoever, love something that you can learn about and bond over. You may not know anything about Minecraft, but if a student in your room loves it, then you need to learn everything about it and love it too so that you can form that bond," she said.
It is clear that Mullinax loves her students and the feeling is mutual. When she through the hallways of the school, it's like a celebrity going by.
The students are what she loves most about what she does.
"They are hilarious, and I laugh a lot because of the things they say and come up with," Mullinax said. "I had a student tell me one time that she goes blind when she closes her eyes, but I shouldn't worry because it goes away when she opens them. Where else can you hear stuff like that every day. I love it."
That kind of encouragement helps offset challenges, like the changes in requirements or regulations or the parts of a student's life that teachers aren't able to "fix."
"We are fixers by nature, and it's difficult not to be able to swoop in and fix a student's situation. Yet, we are held accountable if that student does not succeed," she said. "They are with us the majority of their daily lives, yet we can control only a tiny fraction of what they endure in life. It's really hard sometimes."
She is in her 10th year at the school and was recently named academic coach and Title I coordinator, but the move wasn't necessarily an easy decision.
"Education is where it's at for me," Mullinax said. "I cannot see myself doing anything else in life. It's my passion, my calling and I love doing what I do.
"Moving out of the classroom this year was a bittersweet change for me as I really do miss my class and being with them every day. However, in my current role, I get to see education from a broader perspective and that has been an enjoyable task."
"Her current role, as Title I Instructional Coach allows her to have access to all staff, work inside classrooms with teachers, research and provide timely interventions and model best practices," Compton added.
Mullinax also earned a master's degree in early childhood education from North Georgia. She has two specialist degrees in curriculum and instruction from Lincoln Memorial University and educational leadership from Liberty University as well.
When Mullinax is away from the classroom, she travels as much as possible with her husband. That, however, may also be changing. The two are planning for the arrival of their son who is due in a couple of weeks.
Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of profiles on Dawson County teachers who were named teacher of the year in their respective schools. Look for next week's feature on Black's Mill Elementary second grade teacher Linda Sperin.