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Middle school math teacher quietly impacting her students
I-ToY Christie Downs
Christie Downs works with her sixth grade math students at Dawson County Middle School last week. Downs was named teacher of the year last spring. - photo by Amy French Dawson County News

Sixth grade math teacher at Dawson County Middle School Christie Downs likes to, as she says, "fly under the radar."

Being named teacher of the year last spring shocked the soft-spoken, Georgia-native who is in her 16th year of education.

"I do not see myself as a teacher of the year," Downs said. "I am shy. I kind of like to fly under the radar."

She does, however, say she is pleased to receive the award.

"It is one of the greatest honors I have ever had," she said. "That probably would have been on my bucket list."

The mother of two grew up in Forsyth County and finished her bachelor of science degree in middle grades education at the University of North Georgia after earning an associate's degree at Gainesville College.

When she isn't at school, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her family.

And it took her awhile to settle on teaching as a career.

"I think I fought it for a long time," she said. "I wanted to do everything but that I think. Always in the back of my mind I think I knew that was what I would end up doing."

After she had finished her core classes in college, she settled on teaching at the middle school level.

Downs cites her father who always wanted to teach and two of her own teachers as inspirations to pursue the field.

She said she has always liked the middle grades.

"I had good teachers at that age," she said. "I had a fourth grade teacher and a sixth grade teacher who were very influential. I remember those two teachers who seemed to love us unconditionally."

The challenge of teaching kids at such a precarious stage is not lost on her.

"I had a college professor who told our class: Teaching is definitely a calling, teaching middle school is a direct calling," she said.

Not only did she choose what many consider a difficult age group, she chose a tough subject-math.

Though she has taught English/language arts and reading, her heart is in math.

"Math is my favorite and it's difficult. It's challenging," she said.

Remembering what it was like to feel uncertain in the subject, she works to ensure that students are at ease from day one.

"That's one of the things I try to tell them from the first day. If you struggled in math before, I want you to let all that go right now. We are going to start from the very beginning. I will teach everything as if you have never seen it before," she said.

Downs wants her students to realize how capable they are even though the mental barriers often go up before the first day of school.

Parents and students sometimes tell her as early as open house that they don't like math, hate it in fact.

"You are setting up a mental block before we even get started," she said. "A lot of them know what they are doing and are good math students. They just don't have any confidence in themselves."

So Downs does what she loves. She works to connect with her students and find out what makes them tick. She knows that if she can understand them as a person there is a greater chance for their success.

"What you do for one may shut another one down, it's tricky," she said.

"Just knowing that I may influence a student in a positive way. It's not all about the numbers."

Downs plans to stay in the classroom and hopes to retire as a teacher.

Until then she will continue to help her students get what they need.

"It's about making a connection with each child, finding out what makes them want to learn, to learn for you, to do a good job for you," she said.