The 2014 Dunwoody High School Teacher of the Year didn’t start out as a teacher. Lori Vesole earned degrees in communications, Spanish and Latin in 2007, and started her career in the field of nonprofit marketing.
Her experience working with young students showed her the importance of early encouragement. “In working with elementary school students, I saw that if they didn’t get the proper motivation then, they were more likely to drop out or not finish because it was too hard,” she said.
So, instead of pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, as she originally planned, Vesole only looked at teaching programs. She graduated from Georgia State University with a Master of Arts in Teaching in 2009, and joined the English Department at Dunwoody High School in 2009.
Six years later, she is part of the foundation for programs focused on students who speak English as a second language. This year, Vesole said, these students account for 20 percent of the student body.
Vesole said she feels strongly that intelligence has nothing to do with whether or not you read or write English well, and she loves working with struggling readers.
When Vesole started with DHS, many people didn’t know what ESOL was, she said. She and one other teacher with an ESOL certification shared a classroom.
“It was really unknown as to what ESOL was or what we did inside that classroom, and now I’m really proud to be the leader on a team where I have different content areas and I have energetic and respected coworkers and colleagues who are excited to teach ESOL with me,” Vesole said.
This year, Dunwoody Principal Tom McFerrin created a program where, instead of just one class called “English as a Second Language,” Dunwoody High School offers math, science and social studies components with classes taught by ESOL-certified teachers.
“Our kids are really special, and I feel like for the first time people are recognizing who they are and what they’re capable of,” Vesole said.
The Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce recognized six of the choices for Dunwoody teachers of the year during its monthly breakfast on Jan. 5.
In addition to Vesole, Abbie Ross, of Austin Elementary; Lauren Long, of Dunwoody Elementary; Theodora Johnson, of Georgia Perimeter College; Cheryl Cook, of Hightower Elementary; and Nick Birchby, of Peachtree Middle School, each received a custom parking sign naming them Teacher of the Year, free oil changes from Kia of Chamblee, a $100 gift certificate from McKendrick’s Steak House and a free one-year membership to the UFC Gym.
“I feel very fortunate that both my students and my fellow co-workers felt that I was worthy,” Vesole said.
Vesole said she knows she’s being effective as a teacher when she reads the end-of-the-year letters to her from her students. Reading over the letters “is when I truly get to see a reflection of myself and what I hoped to accomplish, because it’s not just about grammar, punctuation and learning to pass a test,” she said.
“For me, it’s to create a sense of community and a place where they can be free to make mistakes and learn from them,” she said. “Those letters really let me know.”