Finalists named for Fayette’s 2024 Teacher of the Year

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The number of names in the running for 2024 Fayette County Teacher of the Year has been narrowed to just three finalists from 25 of the county’s best educators.

The finalists for the 2024 Teacher of the Year honor are Rob Bell of Starr’s Mill High School, Brian Harmon of Fayette County High School, and Brandi Thornton of Peachtree City Elementary School.

Each finalist will be observed in their classrooms and interviewed by the judging panel, which consists of two retired educators and last year’s county winner, Michelle Shaw of Spring Hill Elementary. The teacher with the highest combined judges’ score will be named the 2024 Fayette County Teacher of the Year.

The winner will be announced at the annual Fayette County Teacher of the Year celebration on Thursday, April 11, 2024.

Rob Bell, Starr’s Mill High School

Rob Bell teaches engineering and computer science at Starr’s Mill High School.

Bell subscribes to an inquiry-based approach to learning where his students use project-based learning to foster their journey toward life-long learning. He prefers to present his students with real world learning experiences. He gives lectures on new material, but he much prefers when students apply their knowledge gained to become better problem solvers.

Bell has two goals as a teacher: To provide students with practical, real-world learning and to build relationships with them. In his current position, he has the unique privilege of teaching the same students over the course of three or four years if they choose to complete the Engineering Pathway.

Brian Harmon, Fayette County High School

Brian Harmon is a certified art and literature teacher. He currently teaches a screenplay writing class, AP art history, and debate I and II at Fayette County High School.

Harmon’s main priority as a teacher is to do right by his students; to him everything else is secondary. His main philosophy is to teach people’s children as he would want them to teach his own. He operates outside of the box when teaching the standards to his students, using unconventional, creative, and complex methods that challenge students’ thinking and connect them to the outside world.

He has been teaching for 17 years and though the classroom management piece has gotten easier, the business of teaching, being engaging, impacting students, and holding them to a high standard continues to be hard work. Harmon does not see hard work as a bad thing, in fact, he believes that if teaching is easy then you aren’t doing something right.

Brandi Thornton, Peachtree City Elementary School

Enrichment teacher Brandi Thornton teaches 1st through 5th grade gifted and talented students at Peachtree City Elementary.

Fostering critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and creativity among her students through the pedagogy of experiential learning is Thornton’s focus. Her enrichment students, affectionately known as Thornton Thinkers, support a variety of humanitarian projects; Salvation Army’s Ring for Change, Midwest Food Bank, Bloom Closet, Royal Refuge, and Real Life Center. Thornton Thinkers also learn in a school garden created in partnership with Thornton and Larry Dove of Two Doves Farm. Problem-based learning is experienced through the highs and lows of organic gardening. Both the humanitarian and gardening experiences give Thornton’s students authentic opportunities to apply mathematics, science, conservation, creativity, problem-solving, and communication skills.

She encourages her students to be counters of blessings, attack challenges with tenacity, and use their gifts to make the world a better place.