‘Extra’: UWG Alumna is Georgia’s Pre-K Teacher of the Year

Julie Lineback

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

If one word could summarize Georgia Pre-K Teacher of the Year and University of West Georgia alumna Becky Thomas-Haden, it would be “extra.”

Extra activities. Extra attention. Extra hours.

“My teenage daughter, Zowie, always tells me, ‘Mom, your classroom is so extra!’ ” she shared. “I believe for children to really learn something, they must experience it – from milking a cow to seeing what all is in the lunchroom kitchen.”

For Thomas-Haden, being a pre-K teacher isn’t just a job – it’s a calling. She meets her new students and their families each summer during home visits so they can get to know her in their most comfortable environment. She utilizes time outside class to attend ball games and dance recitals.

“I always find what my kids are really interested in, and I use that to help them learn,” she said. “I once made a letter card game using World Wrestling Entertainment wrestlers because a struggling student loved watching wrestling with his dad.”

Thomas-Haden was recently recognized for her efforts when Georgia’s first lady Sandra Deal visited Mulberry Creek Elementary School in Harris County to present her with the Pre-K Teacher of the Year award.

The award is administered by Bright from the Start, a division of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.

“I know and understand what it means to be picked out of so many talented teachers working with our pre-K students,” Thomas-Haden commented. “I am so blessed to work with them as they begin their journey of learning.”

Thomas-Haden has been teaching for more than two decades and has been at Mulberry Creek for 18 years.

After graduating from UWG’s College of Education in 1997, Thomas-Haden began her career at Pine Ridge Elementary School teaching first grade. She described her style as unconventional, which she credits to the learning opportunities she garnered while at UWG.

“The many field experiences I was given at various elementary schools and child development centers made a huge impact on me,” she recalled. “No two teachers or classrooms were the same.

“Because of the amazing learning opportunities I had at West Georgia, my teaching style in the late ’90s was nontraditional,” she said. “I was not a fan of having students sit at a desk or table doing workbooks and worksheets all day. We did lots of experiments and projects. My room was usually loud, and my students were having fun learning. They sat on pillows or worked on the floor with clipboards.”

After several years teaching first grade and one in kindergarten, Thomas-Haden moved to pre-K and hasn’t looked back since. Games, puzzles and displays are still her teaching methods of choice.

“Each month focuses on a theme, and I completely transform my room,” she described. “We could be under the sea with fish made from two-liter bottles and ribbons. For my circus, we create a tent by hanging streamers to form the big top. My favorite is our space room – we black out the entire ceiling and use twinkle lights for the stars. The students create rockets, planets and comets.”

And although this is Deal’s last year handing out awards as Georgia’s first lady, Thomas-Haden will continue her legacy and passion for early education for years to come.

“Mrs. Deal has always been a huge supporter of Georgia pre-K,” Thomas-Haden concluded. “Making learning hands-on and exciting will always be my goal as a teacher. When I leave the classroom, I would love to continue on as a trainer or motivator for teachers. Teachers need to be built up – especially pre-K teachers because they lay the foundation. They need to know they have support and what they do matters.”