The door to Anna Barton’s classroom reads “Fall into Reading,” with students’ red, orange and gold cut-out handprints playing a tree’s changing leaves and reaching to get inside.
During a recent lesson, Barton directed her “boys and girls” to go into assigned reading stations. Some read on their own; some quietly arranged words into patterns. Others read aloud to Barton and shared stories about the topic of a book that day: Georgia’s first people, the Native Americans.
“When they feel that you are loving it and you are excited about what you’re doing,” Barton said, “I think it sticks with them. It’s the fun times, those moments that stick with them the most.”
She makes her students feel confident when they read or answer a question — that they are relevant and their contributions are exciting.
“She focuses on the positive and never gives up on her students,” said SEES principal Cheryl Christain. “Students know this about Mrs. Barton and they naturally want to please her.”
This year, Barton is being celebrated as the Effingham County Teacher of the Year. She is a third grade reading and writing teacher at South Effingham Elementary School.
“Third grade, they’re a little older,” said Barton. “They’re still sweet and want to please their teacher, for the most part. But they’re more independent. So it’s nice to get into reading some novels for the first time.”
Her superiors and colleagues praise her cheery demeanor, her talent for tapping into any learners’ needs and her understanding perspective as some of her many merits as a person and a teacher.
“Anna’s brightest jewel in her crown is her ability to make the student believe he or she can do it,” said SEES assistant principal Susan Hartzog.
Melissa Long, a teacher in Barton’s “team” — which departmentalizes subjects and students between two or three teachers — said Barton can reach any learner.
“No matter what the academic level of the learner,” said Long, “Anna is going to help that student achieve at his or her highest potential.
“She also has that special gift of nurturing students that come into her classroom, and you can see it on their faces when they are around her.”
While teaching may have been her destiny, growing up, Anna Barton never thought she’d end up here.
Christain identifies her as someone who was “born to teach.” But Barton said that she never wanted to be a teacher. Like most adolescents, she didn’t want to be like her mother, a former kindergarten teacher and an educational consultant.
“And I never wanted to be a teacher,” Barton said, laughing. “You know a ‘didn’t want to be like her’ kind of thing. It wasn’t until I got married, believe it or not, that I realized that’s what I wanted to do.”
Barton was able to stay home with her son, David Barton III, and teaching him to read inspired her to go back to college.
“Just watching him and teaching him to read,” she said, “and my mother, of course, put books in my hands all the time, that’s when I kind of ‘grew up,’ so to speak, and thought ‘I’d really love to do this.’”
She majored in early childhood education University of South Carolina Beaufort, she said because she wanted to teach children to read.
“You get a sense of fulfillment from it,” Barton said. “Ideally, you are responsible for building a foundation for a child who could have a career (as a writer) or become president of the United States one day. Teaching someone to read is a pretty big deal.”
A Jasper County, S.C., native, Barton worked at Ridgeland Elementary School for six years before moving to Effingham. At Ridgeland, she taught kindergarten, first and second grade.
“If I was going to go backwards,” Barton said of teaching lower grades, “I’d go back to first (grade), because you see so much growth in first grade. You’re teaching them how to read. That’s what teaching is about. When you can see that kind of growth and you sit back and you think ‘wow, I did that. I taught 20 children how to read,’ it’s just an amazing feeling. It really is. I just knew: early childhood, regardless. So that’s how that started, teaching lower grades.”
The Bartons moved to Effingham County in 2007 after becoming disenchanted with the private schools they were sending sons David and Ian to in South Carolina.
“It was the best decision we ever made,” Barton said.
Her husband, David Jr., is a commercial painter, and he is able to commute to the Hilton Head/Bluffton area for work. And Barton is now in her fifth year teaching third grade at SEES.
“Very nice, very friendly,” Barton said of people in Effingham. “That was the first thing we really noticed around here.”
Her son David is a senior at South Effingham High School and Ian is a freshman this year. Barton said that she spends a lot of her free time at the soccer fields for Ian’s games.
“Quite frankly, I’m a soccer mom,” she said, laughing. “My youngest son plays soccer and I’m very involved with that. A lot of our time, weekends, is spent with that. I’m kind of a taxicab during my free time.”
They are also involved at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. And Anna said that she loves to read in her free time, something she attributes to her skills at teaching third graders to read and write.
Although she said that a love for literacy and literature could have been hereditary. Her mother’s educational training and workshops focus a lot on teaching reading, and Barton’s grandmother was a published writer.
“(I feel like) this is my calling,” Barton said. “I really do. I guess it’s in my blood.”
Barton trains teachers at SEES in the system’s Write from the Beginning program.
“When I asked Mrs. Barton to accept this challenge,” said Christain, “it was with the understanding that she would go out of town for several weeks of training at intervals throughout the year.
“As it happened, much of this training occurred during our fall and spring breaks. Being required to give up her vacation time, however, never caused Mrs. Barton to hesitate to accept the responsibility.”
Christain said that the faculty “became aware of Mrs. Barton’s talent and clearly appreciated her willingness to share her expertise with them.”
Barton hopes one day to move into administration, either as a principal, assistant principal or an instructional supervisor.
“I do aspire to eventually go into leadership,” Barton said. “That is my plan, hopefully. Not that I’m in any rush to get out of the classroom right now, I’m really not.”
She graduated from the first cohort of the Effingham County Board of Education’s Aspiring Leaders Program last year. The selective program grooms interested teachers for administrative positions. Barton said she really enjoyed working with staff in that capacity and planning curriculum.
“I love curriculum,” she said. “But typically you have to become an assistant principal before you become a principal. So if something came up, I’d apply.”
Right where she should be
Barton said that she was surprised that she earned county Teacher of the Year and was honored that her colleagues noticed the work she’d put in for Aspiring Leaders.
“I think they recognized that I had done a lot of work last year,” she said. “I was honored, truly honored, to be nominated.”
She said she attributes a genuine love for her job to her successes as an educator.
“I think it’s simple,” Barton said. “I just love what I do. I think if you have a job, a career, and you get up in the morning and look forward to your day, you are right where you should be.”
Long said Barton loves her students and that they love her, too.
“She always has something creative to add to the mix,” said Long, “whether it’s an activity for the school or the classroom or just a suggestion to help a student in need. Our students love Ms. Barton. She just has that niche for reaching every child.”
Hartzog, whose daughter was one of Barton’s reading students, knows firsthand how effective she is as a teacher.
“I saw my daughter grow from an individual who thought she could write ‘stinky’ to an individual who now writes for enjoyment and as a way to think through the challenges and joys of life,” said Hartzog. “Mrs. Barton changed my child’s negative belief about herself to a positive one. What greater gift could a teacher give to a child?”
Hartzog said: “In all facets of my association with Anna Barton, as an administrator, as a colleague, and as a parent, I commend to you her excellence as an educator and as a person. She is a leader through her servanthood, and an inspiration to those who find themselves in her classroom, as well as to those of us who work alongside her every day.”