Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Can't Say Enough about Nation's Top Teacher

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Can't Say Enough about Nation's Top Teacher

Article excerpt

AUGUSTA -- The inscription at the entrance of A. Brian Merry Elementary School says, "The world's finest teachers are found inside these doors."

The inscription was written before Andy Baumgartner became a teacher there four years ago, but he's lived up to the school's proclamation -- even the president thinks so.

During a ceremony last week at the White House, Baumgartner was recognized by President Clinton as the National Teacher of the Year.

With 23 years of award-winning teaching experience -- 17 in Richmond County -- and accolades from everyone who knows him, Baumgartner remains modest about the award.

"Being National Teacher of the Year does not mean that I'm the best in the nation," he said. "It does mean that I am being given the opportunity to represent all of the wonderful things happening in education and all of the wonderful teachers that teach within the public school system."

Baumgartner, fondly referred to by many as "B," has been serving this year as Georgia's Teacher of the Year.

During his year off from teaching, he has presented and attended 248 workshops and seminars throughout the state, telling educators to find ways to foster to the needs of every child.

That is a message he shared with Clinton.


Baumgartner's message has gotten through in his school. His pupils recently climbed all over him when they saw him.

He sat down with them in the middle of the floor and listened as they updated him on what they've been up to since they last saw him.

Trey Young, 8, a second-grader, who didn't talk much before attending Baumgartner's classes, told his favorite teacher about his new video game then explained what makes B special.

"He's the greatest teacher in the world," Trey said. "He helps us out and he's my best buddy."

The group of pupils hugged and played with Baumgartner, tousled his salt-and-pepper hair, and couldn't say enough good things about him.

"I like B because he's really nice and he made math fun," said second-grader Nathan Lewis, 7.

Baumgartner decided to become a teacher while in high school, after volunteering to help mentally challenged students in a Savannah school.

He was born in Anniston, Ala., but raised in Hickory, N.C., Macon and Savannah -- traveling with his father, whose job as a Lutheran minister kept the family moving.

"It was very rewarding," he said of his first experience with young children.


Teaching, though, wasn't Baumgartner's original life plan.

"When I was growing up I wanted to be a Broadway star or movie star," he said, "Now, I guess in a way, I've gotten to the teacher's Oscars."

Baumgartner's parents said he was the child in their neighborhood who rounded up other children for play-time events. …

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