Language Arts teacher’s enthusiasm is spreading to the children
Within minutes of meeting Sandi Newsham, it isn’t hard to see why her fifth grade students at Heard-Mixon Elementary School think she’s so much fun. After 14 years of teaching, Newsham still has such enthusiasm for her job that her students can’t help but catch a bit of it themselves.
Newsham teaches language arts and is responsible for helping students with their writing and grammar skills. And although she said she always wanted to be an educator, she took a longer road than most to get where she is today. Raised in Newton County, Newsham graduated from high school and decided she didn’t want to spend four more years in school. So she attended DeKalb Technical College and received a two-year degree and went to work at a bank.
While there she was assigned to train co-workers, and many of them commented on her teaching skills, telling her she had missed her calling as a teacher. Newsham took those comments into consideration and decided to substitute a few times to see if she liked it. She became hooked.
Newsham started going to night school and eventually earned her degree in early childhood education.
“I had to take the long way around,” she said. “But I am so glad that I did. I realized I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do which was teach.”
After earning her degree from Georgia College and State University, she went on to earn her Masters in Special Education with a specialty in learning disabilities.
“I thought that would allow me to be a better teacher to all children,” she explained.
Newsham taught first grade at Fairview Elementary for nine years and then decided to transfer to Heard-Mixon which is where her children, 8-yearold Anna Claire and 5-year-old Aidan, attend classes. When she put in for her transfer, she found they only had an opening for a fifth grade teacher.
“I was scared to death to move to fifth grade,” she said with a laugh. “At first I was really intimidated at the thought of teaching children this age. In first grade they are so loving and I love teaching them reading— seeing them come in knowing so little and when they leave they can read. I love that. First graders still come up and give you a hug.
“But then I realized that fifth graders are bigger but they are still children. Once you let them know that you’re there because you care, then you’ve got them. Once you win them over, you can get them to do what you need to in the classroom.”
Newsham was also recently named Heard-Mixon’s Teacher of the Year, a fact that still surprises her almost as much as how Principal Lee Peck let her know she was the school’s choice.
She had just taken her students to music when Peck called over the intercom and asked her to stay there with her students because he needed to speak with all of them. There had been an issue in her class that day and, according to Newsham, she assumed they were going to be addressed by the principal about respect.
Instead the door to the classroom opened and in walked Peck with flowers, the school’s media specialist with a video camera and the assistant principal. They announced to both Newsham and her class she had been chosen by her peers as the school’s TOTY.
“I started crying and the kids all started clapping. It really is an honor to be chosen by my peers. I was, and still am, shocked, surprised and very, very honored. I have never once regretted my decision to become a teacher. Even on the bad days. It is a plus to have a career that allows me to be with my family.”
Sandi Newsham, fifth grade teacher at Heard-Mixon Elementary School, has taught for 14 years. She previously worked at a bank.