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Amidst pandemic challenges, Georgia Southern alumna awarded for national Reclaiming the Joy of Teaching Award

Margarita Pomare-McDonald (‘20)

Georgia Southern University alumna and Windsor Forest Elementary School first grade teacher Margarita Pomare-McDonald (‘20) is the 2021 recipient of the Literacies and Language Arts for All (LLA) Reclaiming the Joy of Teaching Award.

Presented each year by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the Joy of Teaching Award is given annually to a Pre-K through 12th grade teacher who inspires authentic progressive literacy and learning.

“Ms. McDonald is always engaging students with a spirit of joy,” said Georgia Southern Professor of Reading Education Sally Brown, Ph.D. “Recently, COVID-19 spawned a series of challenges for teachers. Even through troubling times, she remained positive. Her enthusiasm brought joy to students as they learned from home, and she pushed herself to learn more about the ways digital tools can support literacy learning. Her innovative ideas and methods captured the interests of her students during the pandemic. Ms. McDonald’s commitment did not end when the school day was officially over. She continued working with families who struggled to connect with the internet in the late evening. Her joy never faltered.”

Originally from New York, McDonald’s journey brought her to Savannah where she was a stay at-home mom with her daughter.

“At first I volunteered in the school district when my daughter was in kindergarten,” she explained. “I kept saying that when my daughter got into middle school, she would be able to stay at home alone, and I would pursue a career with my business degree.”

After some time at the school, teachers and administrators alike started to encourage McDonald to join the school’s staff.

The timing worked out just right, and with the retirement of a paraprofessional in kindergarten, McDonald took the school up on their offer to become a full-time employee. After a few more years, her co-workers and supporters in the school started to push her again.

“They said I had to go back to school and get certified so I could teach in my own classroom,” McDonald said. “I thought I was finished with school. I didn’t want to go back to school. But next thing I knew I was applying at Armstrong in 2016 to earn my Master of Arts in Teaching.”

In 2019, McDonald started as a teacher with her own classroom and completed her studies and certification from Georgia Southern in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch to virtual learning.

“I had enough experience under my belt from my years volunteering and as a paraprofessional to work through teaching online and get through it,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because I didn’t want to see my students get behind. But I am so excited to be back with them in person this school year.”

McDonald is currently teaching the Dual Language Immersion class at Windsor Forest Elementary, where native English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students are integrated in the same classroom to promote bilingual and biliterate students as well as high academic achievement. To continue to grow in her career and meet the needs of her students, McDonald has pursued advanced academic opportunities at Georgia Southern, including completion of an ESOL graduate endorsement this year, and enrollment in the gifted endorsement program this semester.

McDonald is responsible for instruction in reading, English language arts and social studies in English. Her teaching philosophy is one of the very reasons she was recognized for her recent award.

“A lot of times when our students are not where they need to be, they get discouraged,” she explained. “With English language learners, they are trying to learn content while trying to learn a new language. So I try to make learning exciting and focus on helping each student grow from where they are. There is no one track for everyone. I help each individual student grow to their next level.”

When McDonald looks back at all of her experiences, she says she knows she is right where she is supposed to be.

“I felt like this has been my calling, and I have just been fighting it all these years,” she said. “But maybe it wasn’t meant for me in the past. I am where I am supposed to be at the right time. Because when I say I love what I do, I mean I love what I do.”

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