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Meet Mary Jo Fina, RHMS teacher of year

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POSTED: May 17, 2010 10:55 a.m.
Photo by Jeff Whitten/

Mary Joe Fina

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Meet Richmond Hill Middle School Teacher of the Year for 2010-2011, Mary Jo Fina.

Congratulations on winning teacher of the year honors at BCMS. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Many of the students I teach, if they can remember back to their booster shots from childhood, may recognize me as their nurse from the health department! I traded my stethoscope for a box of dry erase markers and a white board, receiving my master’s in middle grades education from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 2004. Fortunately, none of the students thus far have held booster shots against me. I am currently teaching Georgia history, although for most of my teaching years, I taught earth science. My children went through the Richmond Hill school system and my daughter was even fortunate enough to complete her student teaching in music education at Richmond Hill Middle School. She is now completing her master’s in museum studies at John Hopkins University. My son is working on his undergraduate in environmental management at California Poly technical Institute (although he just completed a class in building surf boards, so I am confused about what environmental management entails). My hobbies include fossil hunting (my husband and I try to find new and interesting fossil sites to go to each summer) and photography (I sponsor an after school photography club and am oftenfound at the various middle school sport events with a variety of cameras and club members).

Why did you get into teaching?
Education has always been of paramount importance to me. I began my career just as the field of oncology was becoming a specialty. We had no formal patient education materials and I observed first hand the problems that arose from the lack of education. I successfully worked on many educational initiatives in oncology nursing, but was not drawn to a career change until I began working with the pediatric population. They had such a magical curiosity and were so incredibly interested in “all things science” - and nothing was too gross for them. I recognized that these young minds were the future and I wanted to take part in that future - inspiring the next generation and, through them, not just saving lives, but transforming them. These young minds have transformed me as well - inspiring in me a love and respect of all subjects. Through teaching Georgia History, I see the interrelationships between politics and science, the need for the application of reason, law and order to technology and the need for the creation of great minds in all subject areas. I still see the magical curiosity in the students, but best of all, I now see it in myself.

Why are good teachers important?
Thomas Jefferson called for every county to be divided into such a size that all children would be within reach of a central school for education. Jefferson and the founding fathers believed it was essential to create an educated public - especially if that public were given the challenge of the right to vote. If we are to create the future voting citizens, who in turn are charged with shaping the world for the good of all mankind, it is essential to have the best teachers. The best teachers are experts in their subject areas, experts in pedagogy and experts in motivating students to become critical thinkers and achieve their personal best.

Do you have a philosophy on teaching?
Teaching must be an interactive process and the role of the teacher as facilitator in that process. Initiatives such as standards based classrooms assist in redefining the roles of both teacher and students and, in that process, redefine the focus from outstanding teachers to the rightful focus of teachers who create outstanding students. I encourage self directed learners and, using cooperative learning groups, utilize inquiry based activities that connect to real world applications. In addition to cooperative learning groups, I also employ strategies that target the different multiple intelligences areas identified by Gardner. It is also essential to examine the rigor of assignments, creating tiers within those assignments for advanced components as well as scaffolding and differentiation for struggling learners or groups. Potential barriers, such as a lack of background information to support the inquiry or psychosocial obstacles, could impede the process and strategies, including flexible grouping and data analysis, should be part of the preplanning rather than rescue process. The education profession needs teachers who want to make a difference and who believe that every child is capable of learning. As educators, we must take care to avoid “killing curiosity” and find ways to engage seemingly disengaged or disinterested students. There is no such thing as the failure of a student to learn, only our failure to find the right strategies to assist that student in learning.

Bryan County Schools have a reputation for excellence. Why do you think that is?
Bryan County Schools possess the “educational milieu”- those perfect conditions where parents, administrators, teachers and students work in harmony towards the shared common goals of education. As a teacher, I am fortunate to work in this environment. I have excellent colleagues, who offer to me their expertise and encouragement. Together we examine student achievement data and work to design best practice lessons - both subject specific and cross curricular. I work with an excellent administration. Our administration provides us with the necessary tools to implement best practice strategies and encourages our professional growth. This includes not only tools in the material sense, but also includes tools through the sharing of information, experience and methodologies for success. I can honestly say that every single school employee works to ensure student education is the best possible. From technology and curriculum support, to office, custodial, cafeteria and media support, everyone’s goal is to help students achieve their best. Finally, I work with excellent students and their parents. Bryan County parents instill in their children the value of education and students work enthusiastically to achieve educational goals. Some of the best teaching ideas come from the students themselves - as they take an active approach in their education. Bryan County’s formula for success is evident in the many recognitions and awards bestowed upon the system. The greatest reward, however, is watching as each future generation leaves our schools empowered to make the world a better place.

What is the hardest part of your job?
Saying goodbye to my eighth-graders at the end of the year!  I work on an end of the year video for each of the classes and it is always difficult as I realize the end of my time with them is near. Fortunately, many of them come back to visit!

What is the easiest part of your job?
I interpret the easiest part of my job as that part which I do without even thinking. I find it easy to connect concepts to “real world” applications and situations and to adjust/adapt lessons based upon unique class dynamics. I also find it easy to interact with the students and enjoy taking part in documenting their many school activities (such as after school band, sports and academic endeavors.) While very time consuming, researching for lessons is easy for me because all of the information is so interesting. The harder part comes when examining the information to determine the best strategy at a grade level, class level and finally individual student level.

If you want to share the credit or give thanks to anyone for the award, you’re welcome to do so.
Since I love photography, I would like to use a photography analogy. I am a photo mosaic. If you took a picture of me and zoomed in closely, you would see that thousands of small cells or tiles actually make up my features. Inside each of these cells is the face of a family member, colleague, administrator, parent,student - anyone who has touched my life. Every person I come in contact with helps shape me as an educator and my fervent hope is that I make each proud of their contributions.

Note: Fina sponsors both the Model United Nation and Photography Club at RHMS.
 

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