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AJC top teacher Jill Buchanan of Douglas gave hope to parent of child with special needs

The AJC created the Celebrating Teachers Awards this year to showcase remarkable Georgia educators. More than 375 teachers were nominated in the inaugural round of the awards, and a panel of education professors chose 10 winners.

These teachers share a common trait: They go above and beyond for their students and their schools. Since this is Thanksgiving week, a time to express gratitude, I am sharing the nominating letters and photos of all 10 teachers, two each day from Monday to Friday. The new profiles will post early in the morning and mid-afternoon each day.

So, please check back and read about all 10. You will find inspiration. The nominating letters were read at a celebration a few weeks ago at Cox headquarters in honor of the winners. This next one made me cry.

Jill Buchanan from Dorsett Shoals Elementary School in Douglas County was nominated by parent Donna Minor, who, in part, wrote:

Jill Buchanan is an amazing teacher and an extraordinary person.  My son Dakota with special needs came to Jill's class at the end of first grade. Having difficulties at two prior schools, Dakota struggled with anxiety resulting in meltdowns. By the end of the week, Dakota would cry when I came to pick him up because he wanted to stay. Parents of children with special needs are told by the school system that they are an important part of their child's education.  However, there are many times when we feel we are not heard.  Jill is the first teacher that I’ve ever met that really listens.

I remember the first time I had lunch with Dakota at Dorsett Shoals. He became upset when he saw me and wanted to go home. Jill approached us and sat down across from us at the "visitor's table." From past experiences, I expected her to discourage me from future lunch dates. Instead, she looked at me and said "Don't let this keep you from coming to lunch. He will get used to you coming for a visit, and he will stop getting upset once he sees that you will come back soon to pick him up."

Once Dakota calmed down, I started encouraging him to eat his lunch.  She watched us intently, picking up on how I motivated him to eat so that she could use the same methods.

I have never witnessed another teacher who would take the time to learn from the parent. Having a nonverbal child can be nerve-wracking because you can't ask them how their day is going. She lets me know via text messages what they’re doing at school so I can try to replicate at home. As such, Dakota is thriving both at home and at school.  In our meetings, I finally feel like I have an ally. Dakota was technically a fifth grader last year, but I wanted him to have at least one more year with Jill.  Since he’d already been held back in kindergarten, I knew it would be difficult to get him that extra year.

Thanks to her speaking with school administrators, I did not have to defend my choices.  I just cannot say enough about the woman who has given me hope when it comes to Dakota, as well as the school system in general.

I wish they could clone her!  Jill gets it. She truly wants me to feel comfortable when I give my child to her. I have met great teachers over the years, and I have the utmost respect for them and their love for their students. But I have never met anyone that comes close to Jill.  I thank God for her every day!


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.