Several years ago, Amy Burns was working 70 or more hours a week as an industrial engineer, balancing her time off with her husband who was working similar hours as the manager at a Ford dealership. When the couple started talking about having a family, Burns realized that something in their busy work schedules would have to change in order to have kids. So she decided to make a drastic career change and go back to school to become a teacher in order to have more time on weekends and summers to spend with her children.
Now, Burns is in her 18th year teaching and has recently been named the 2022-23 Teacher of the Year for Dawson County Junior High School.
Burns is a math teacher and department head at the junior high school, and she has spent 17 and a half of her 18 years teaching in the Dawson County school district. She said that math has always been something she’s loved, so making the transition into teaching by becoming a math teacher was a logical path to follow.
“Math was always my favorite; my kids always ask me why did I pick math and I tell them math to me is like a puzzle or a problem to be solved — and I love to solve problems so that’s the reason why I picked it,” Burns said. “I had my industrial engineering degree so I went ahead and got my masters in math education at UGA so that I could teach — and I have taught everything from sixth grade to twelfth grade.”
Burns was announced as the junior high school’s 2022-23 teacher of the year by DCJHS Principal Brody Hughes during a faculty meeting at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and she said that the announcement couldn’t have come as more of a surprise to her.
“I was sitting with other teachers and I said to the teacher next to me ‘who do you think it’s going to be this year; I voted for this person’ and she said ‘well I voted for you’,” Burns said. “So that got me to thinking ‘what did I do’ and ‘were you the only person who noticed whatever it was that made you vote for me’, and right at that moment Mr. Hughes said the teacher of the year and it was me.”
Burns’ husband was there for the announcement to celebrate with her, as were her in-laws — something that she said was extra special because her mother-in-law used to be a teacher and was the person who encouraged her to enter the field in the first place.
Each teacher of the year is selected by the other teachers at their respective school, and Burns said that knowing that her fellow teachers at DCJHS think so highly of her is a huge honor and encouragement.
“To know that my peers, these great teachers, said that they saw something in me that made me stand out… it meant a great deal to me because there’s 10 other people I could have named that I would have thought would have gotten this before me,” Burns said. “I was totally surprised and very humbled.”
In her classroom, Burns said that she teaches her students by a philosophy of perseverance, encouraging them to never give up even when a problem seems too big or too difficult.
“One of the things that is important to me is perseverance, so for me that’s one of my main things that I try to stress with my kids because I’ll have a lot of times where I’ll have a kid get a problem wrong and say ‘I’m done’,” Burns said, “so I try to give them examples of we wouldn’t have electricity, the lightbulb, a phone if those people had failed one time and given up.”
And one of her favorite parts about teaching, she said, is the reward of that perseverance: when she gets to “see that lightbulb come on” and witness a student finally understand a problem or a concept.
Another thing she loves about teaching, Burns said, is getting to know the different personalities of each of her students.
“I like that even though we’re a small community here in Dawson, still within our community everybody is different and I really enjoy working with all the different personality styles of the kids,” Burns said. “I love helping people and being around different people. My job is never the same; it’s always different.”