“Every day I have the opportunity to touch lives, deliver hope, and connect with about 100 - 125 students. It is a gift (that I do not take lightly) to help my students believe in themselves, to help them understand that education is an answer to changing their lives, and to inspire them that, with hard work, all things are possible.”
When Freddy Fuentes was in the eighth grade, he encountered a teacher who would change the trajectory of his life. This teacher was the first to see the potential that Fuentes had to be a great teacher, and encouraged him to continue to develop those skills.
"She saw that I was able to reach those who were having difficulty understanding mathematics and she empowered me by using me as an instructional resource," Fuentes said. "Whenever students were not able to understand her explanation, she had me explain. She modeled the attitude/creativity of the "do whatever it takes" to guide a student to reach his or her potential."
Fuentes was named Dalton Public Schools' Teacher of the Year at the district's employee convocation on August 1 at the Wink Theater. Beth Sams from Dalton Middle School was also announced as the runner-up.
Shortly after Fuentes thanked his colleagues for the recognition, Jason Denson with Ford of Dalton approached the stage with a giant key and the actual car keys to the year-long use of a new 2019 Ford Escape.
"My mother was a teacher," Denson said. "I know how important the job is that each and every person in this auditorium does. I can't thank you enough."
It was in college that Fuentes realized that pursuing a career in teaching would allow him the opportunity to fulfill both his personal and professional aspirations. He decided to become a teacher during these formative years, and hasn't looked back since.
"Every day I have the opportunity to touch lives, deliver hope, and connect with about 100 - 125 students," Fuentes said. "It is a gift (that I do not take lightly) to help my students believe in themselves, to help them understand that education is an answer to changing their lives, and to inspire them that, with hard work, all things are possible."
Fuentes's teaching philosophy has produced students who are now doctors, engineers, and nurses. Much like his eighth grade math teacher inspired him to pursue a career in teaching, Fuentes has surely inspired many of his students to teach as well.
One of these former students, Dolores Flanagan, said in a testimony before the US Senate Subcommittee of Education that Fuentes was a pivotal teacher in her life.
"This affinity for numbers became a love affair when my eighth-grade algebra teacher, Mr. Fuentes, introduced me to the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP)," Flanagan said. "I was part of UConn's School of Engineering for three years until I began to question my purpose in life. I thought about how my eighth-grade teacher had challenged and inspired me to become involved and use my talents, ability and intelligence to take me to the highest levels. Mr. Fuentes was the catalyst in a long series of fortunate events. I wanted to have that kind of an effect on people, specifically children and young adults."
Above all, Fuentes firmly believes you cannot teach students without getting to know them first. To do this, Fuentes often cooks a breakfast of pancakes and eggs for his students, or prepares homemade meals for them for lunch.
"This is all so I can reach them in their brain at the academic level" Fuentes said. "I recognize that I have a responsibility to be a role model in all I do. My walk, my talk, my dress code, my interaction with students, teachers, administrators and parents are all teachable moments that my students observe. I model to them, through all I do, how to be a better human being, how to be a contributing member of society, how to achieve great things and how to maximize their potential."
Other school-level Teacher of the Year honorees include: Sherry Brannen, Blue Ridge School; Cheryl Weaver, Brookwood School; Nikki Byrd, City Park School; Ashley Brindle, Park Creek School; Ami Amaro, Roan School; Suzy Thomas, Westwood School; Evangeline Starks, Dalton High School.
Through sponsorships from Parrish Construction Company, Carroll Daniel Construction, J. W. Buckley and Associates, Inc., Georgia United Credit Union, Shaw Industries, Dalton Utilities and First Bank of Dalton, all school-level Teacher of the Year winners received $250, and Sams received an additional $500 as the runner up. Fuentes received an additional $1,000.