McRae honored at Carter Center in Atlanta
Pictured: McRae '78 with 2013 Teacher of the Year Lauren Eckman, Paul Bowers, President and CEO of Georgia Power and Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education [GPEE] Board Chair, and Chase Puckett, 2005 Teacher of the Year [Puckett spoke at the opening convocation of Decatur county Schools in August 2004] at GPEE 20th anniversary reception honoring teaching excellence at the Carter Center/Library in Atlanta.
John McRae, retired principal form John Johnson and current instructor at Albany State’s Cairo site, was honored with the past 20 GA Teachers of the of Year at the 20th anniversary of the GA Partnership for Excellence in Education which is part to the GA Chamber of Commerce. While the McRae was GA TOTY in 1978 Steve Dollinger, executive director stated, “ We include John McRae here because he has been a long-time supporter of the Georgia Partnership and one of our staunchest supporters in south Georgia. John has also been a great adviser to us through the years and has served as a Council member. When it comes to standing up for rural education, John has been and continues to be a champion and he has advised us accordingly. We feel his words of wisdom that go back to a different Georgia are enlightening.” The reception for over two hundred invited guests was held at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta.
What makes a great teacher?
A combination of things… An innovator, improviser, educator, and entertainer.
Why did you enter the teaching profession?
I read “The Thread That Runs So True” in 8th grade by Jesse Stuart, an educator from
rural Tennessee – I knew then that is what I wanted to do.
Why did you stay?
If you do not enjoy it, leave – I never stopped enjoying it. After being named High
Performing Principal in 2006, I knew it was time to leave when you are at the top of
your game. Now I teach future teachers at Albany State.
Describe special moments you experienced as a teacher.
When I integrated elementary school classrooms in 1991 and the superintendent non-renewed
me. Black ministers took up money to help me fight to get my job back. The
town rallied. The teachers presented me with a plaque that said, “You have validated
our worth as teachers”. There was a note from a student who told me “you do not know but
you made school different—I will miss you.” If it had been easy…. there would not have
been those special moments and many more.
There’s one more that comes to mind. Greg Daniels at UGA --major gift officer-- MBA
from Harvard Business School -- introduced me to the president of UGA three years
ago as “my favorite/best teacher that I ever had!” That goes back to the 6th grade in
What obstacles did you face?
Trying to do the right thing is not always popular – there were bumps in the road that
made me move to different systems. Nepotism is rampant in some systems – it is not
how you teach but “who’s your daddy, husband, brother” – that counts. It did not count
for me. I wanted good teachers not a family reunion! It was tough working for
superintendents and boards of education who lacked backbone. In an example I will never
forget, they admitted black children, but then put them in separate classrooms and called
it grouping, as opposed to what it really was, segregation. That was wrong! You have to
have a strong superintendent and a school board with education sense to have a good
school. I had some of those leaders but saw too many who made it difficult to succeed in
Over my career it was evident that parents who did not have a good learning
environment affect how their children come to school -- negative thoughts are easier to
pass along— and the POOR economy. These things impacted learning. By the time I
retired it was clear kids were hurting more.
Remember when you had school clothes and play clothes—now you just have play
clothes so children come to school in them and think play not school. Remember when
teachers looked professional and acted professionally? Why is it that schools with a
strict dress code or uniforms perform better? You dress for success- successful learning
and successful teaching-- the schools that do you can tell the difference. Look at the
current (2012) Teacher of The Year and what he wears to schools—he is like me 30 years
ago--- it is still true.
The famous Burlesque Queen Gypsy Rose Lee once said, “Anybody can take their clothes
off… you got to give ‘em a reason to come back and see you again” - and I did! As a
principal, you are always building a professional learning community. Like Steve Jobs,
all my memos began, Team.