Bejay Osby has been teaching at Sarah Smith Elementary, a public school in Buckhead, for nine years. Osby began his teaching career at Sarah Smith and taught all subjects to fourth graders for the past eight years. This year he became a fifth -grade teacher and will only teach math and science, his “two true passions.”

He also regularly incorporates exercise in his classroom and has his students help care for the school’s garden.

Bejay Osby. (Special)

Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?

A: I love kids and I love teaching kids, but it wasn’t that simple. I initially chose a career path that I knew would be lucrative as an account executive, but I was miserable. Professionally, I have little patience for adults and I needed something more than just a job. I needed to be more creative. I needed to have a greater impact. I needed to become a teacher. I was afforded the ability to go back to school and change my path. It is without question that teaching is the hardest job I have ever had, but the most rewarding and satisfying as well.

Q: What keeps you going year after year?

A: Being in a superlative school with superlative students, parents, and teachers is definitely a constant inspiration and motivation that I am endlessly grateful for. I love what I do and I love where I do it!

Q: How do you engage your students?

A: In this day and age, you have to be creative to engage students. Technology is key, but project-based learning is just as important. I like for my students to create and connect, communicate ideas, argue various perspectives and get their hands dirty in their learning process.

I am also certified to teach health and physical education, K-12, so engagement in my class, and beyond, includes physical activity. We may do Pilates body breaks or quick cardio bursts in the classroom, but I think play, and being involved in that play, can be crucial in teaching my students outside the classroom.

For example, you may find me on the basketball court, four-square court or pitching a game of kickball at recess. This helps build deeper connections with my students. I can help them problem-solve in a competitive setting, and often bridges are built between students, especially those who may be more reluctant to join a game.

Osby, center, poses with his students at the Dunwoody Nature Center where he said his class got the inspiration to create a pollinator garden at Sarah Smith Elementary. (Special)

Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?

A: The book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio plays a key role my classroom each year. The main character, Auggie Pullman, has a craniofacial abnormality, or “difference,” and is going to school for the first time in fifth grade. Last year, my class was so moved that they decided to raise money for the World Craniofacial Foundation (worldcf.org).

My students also enjoy creating each year an Explorer Wax Museum, when they “become” wax representations of the European explorers we study. They have full costumes and well-prepared, one-minute biographical speeches they deliver to the invited visitors of our museum.

My class heads our school’s “Captain Plant” gardens. My students last year were inspired to add a pollinator garden to help with the Monarch butterfly and bee population. With the help of the Dunwoody Nature Center and Blue Heron Nature Preserve, they grew milkweed from seedlings in our lab and eventually transferred them to beds outside.

Q: Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?

A: Overall, we have to be entertainers through our lesson presentations, classwork and projects. Learning, especially at the primary and intermediate levels, needs to be fun, motivating and differentiated. Engagement is key. I strive to give my students razzle, dazzle, pageantry and pizzazz for each lesson each day. If you love what you are doing then students see that, and naturally want to be a part of that process.

Editor’s note: Through our “Exceptional Educator” series, Reporter Newspapers showcase the work of some of the outstanding teachers and administrators at our local schools. To recommend an educator for our series, please email editor@reporternewspapers.net.

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