A Dawson County math teacher has recently become one of only three K-6 teachers in Georgia to be named a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in mathematics and science teaching.
Tracy Martin teaches fourth-grade math at Kilough Elementary School. Back in August of 2020, Martin found out she had been nominated for the award and was invited to fill out an application.
“Just to be nominated I was honored and humbled; I guess I never thought that I was that level of a teacher but apparently somebody did,” Martin said. “I applied and the application process was grueling — it was very in-depth, very intense — I had to film myself teaching and submit lessons and talk about how I teach and why I teach and just every aspect of teaching math.”
After submitting the application in August, Martin waited for it to be reviewed and was contacted again about a month ago with the news that she was a finalist for the award.
“I got a call that said ‘hey you’re one of three finalists for the state’,” Martin said. “So now the national board is looking at our applications and one of the three of us is going to win a trip to the White House and $10,000 — so it very well could be me.”
Kilough Elementary Principal Teresa Conowal said that she is the one who nominated Martin for the award and in her opinion, Martin is the perfect fit for the award.
“When it came across, I thought that she is just so deserving, because not only do I have the perspective of her as a principal and getting the honor to be in her classroom a lot but I also was a parent last year of a child that struggled in mathematics,” Conowal said. “So when he got to Mrs. Martin he really lacked the confidence that he needed to take risks in the classroom but what I thought was absolutely phenomenal was that throughout the year his confidence kept building and building.”
Conowal said that she’s seen this blossoming confidence in not only her own son, but in dozens of other children who have cycled through Martin’s classroom.
“Kids will be talking about Mrs. Martin’s class outside of math, just in the hallway, and saying ‘I love Mrs. Martin; she’s my favorite’,” Conowal said. “Her classroom is just grounded in motivation and celebration, and she meets the kids where they are and builds their confidence so that by the end of the year they feel that they’re great mathematicians.”
Martin said that her classroom motto is “It doesn’t get easier, you get better”, and that her goal is to motivate her students to always do their own personal best.
“I love to motivate students and tell them ‘you can be good at anything as long as you put the work into it’,” Martin said. “We try every day in my class not to be better than the next person but to be better than ourselves the day before, so the goal is to be better every day than you were yesterday.”
Conowal said that Martin’s love of teaching and of motivating students is one of the many things that makes her an asset to the school. According to Conowal, she and the rest of the staff at Kilough are overjoyed that Martin has made it so close to the national award.
“Our whole building is rallying around her and celebrating her accomplishment; this is a rare opportunity for her to be recognized at this level but I’m ecstatic that the people on the committee get to see what I have the pleasure of seeing every day,” Conowal said. “She is one of the leaders in our building, just the culture in our building she just helps make it a place that kids absolutely love — they just can’t wait to get to math every day.”
Martin has been teaching math for 20 years, four of which have been at Kilough Elementary. She said that she hopes to be able to one day retire from the school because it’s her favorite teaching position she’s had.
“I think Dawson County is the best place to teach; this is my fourth system I have taught in and it is by far the absolute best,” Martin said. “Teaching is my passion — my alarm goes off every morning at 5 a.m., my feet hit the floor and I am ready to go — and truly I am not a morning person at all but I love coming in here every day and making a difference in the lives of our young people.”
Martin’s application will be reviewed by the National Board of Science and Mathematics, and she will hear back about the award in August 2021. But according to Martin, she will be proud of herself whether or not she ends up winning.
“If I go no further, I will still be just so excited just to have made it this far; winning would be just the cherry on the sundae,” Martin said.