Jessica O’Neal teaches more than numbers at LaGrange High School – LaGrange Daily News
EDITOR’S NOTE: The LaGrange Daily News is profiling the 25 Teacher of the Year in the Troup County school system.
After graduating with a kinesiology degree from Georgia Southern, Jessica O’Neal could never have guessed that she would be teaching algebra at LaGrange High School. However, upon graduation, she quickly realized that she did not have the heart for the daily work that her kinesiology degree offered her. She thought about nursing, but eventually decided to teach and began working at college soon after.
âBeing in college, I think it was really good training. It makes high school kids easier because [middle school] it’s like throwing yourself in the trenches, âO’Neal said. âI had a really good mentor when I started teaching in college, and she taught me to balance being tough, but also a little forgiving, like tough love.â
James Bozeman, the deputy director of LHS who helps run Freshman Academy, describes O’Neal as innovative in the way she teaches content to her students.
âShe is innovative. It’s interesting to go to her classroom and watch her teach, âsaid Bozeman. âShe’s very creative in the way she uses outside content to make it relevant to her students. Often times she has these little treasure hunts. I will see them if [Iâm in my office] and the kids are all in the lobby. I’m going to get my cameras out and watch the hallways while I’m here.
Bozeman said he praised O’Neal for the extra effort she is putting in with any student who may need math help at LHS.
“She is here every day after school tutoring the children, whether they are her children or other teachers,” Bozeman said. “I can get out of here at 5:30 or 6:00 sometimes, and she still has seven or eight kids there who may or may not be hers, which is great.”
O’Neal said she strives never to be the teacher students remember as the reason they hated school growing up.
âI never want to be that teacher like someone else, ‘I always hated school because I only had one teacher doing that,â O’Neal said.
O’Neal said her two children inspired the way she taught and the classroom atmosphere she created /
âIf this was my child, what kind of teacher do I need my children to have? What kind of teacher do I want them to have every day? Said O’Neal.
She said her daughter’s activities and homework in elementary school showed how involved all the students were.
âBeing a mom has helped me see the full picture. It’s not all about me, and it’s not all about me. They need to get what they need from school, âO’Neal said. “They might need to have a little bit at home, but at the end of the day have their things after school and have that autonomy and freedom to express themselves.”
Bozeman said he saw O’Neal’s dedication to his students during the pandemic as she always made herself available to them despite being unable to come to campus.
“I would go to his class [and] the submarine every day installs the projector with the laptop. She’s at home while she’s in quarantine, and she’s teaching her guts to the kids who are there, whether they’re virtual or in person, âBozeman said. âThe kids were in there and they’re interacting with it because you can talk and they can hear both sides. For me, I guess you could say it’s one of those times.
Outside of school, O’Neal takes road trips with his family and even the families of his fellow teachers.
âWe just travel and we go because we are teachers. We have all summer, so let’s take our kids everywhere, âshe said. âItâs a very good bonding experience on the road, and I think for [my kids], too, see the world and see the United States and be patient with each other. I think they learn so much from camping.
O’Neal has said she couldn’t do everything she does in her role at LHS without the support of her faculty.
âEvery year is tough, but what I’ve found at LaGrange is a group of people supporting each other. We’re a great faculty, but we’re all very supportive, âO’Neal said.
âWe just finished playing this huge, faculty-wide snowball fight. It’s things like that that keep me going. We have fun with each other.