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Teachers of the year

Woman with unusual name
focuses math class on process

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

Lena "Corky" Vann may have a quirky nickname, but her teaching is straightforward, determined and intense.

Austin High School math teacher Lena 'Corky' Vann seeks class input on a geometry problem Monday. Vann is one of two Decatur City Schools' Co-Secondary Teachers of the Year.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Austin High School math teacher Lena 'Corky' Vann seeks class input on a geometry problem Monday. Vann is one of two Decatur City Schools' Co-Secondary Teachers of the Year.
Students in her Austin High School classes are going to learn math, and they're going to learn to do it the right way without interruption — period.

Teaching has been Vann's passion for 34 years at Austin, and it's one of the reasons she is Decatur City Schools' Co-Secondary Teacher of the Year with Decatur High School's Mike Smith.

Vann describes her teaching style as "traditional." She considers the method the most important part of learning math. She teaches from bell to bell, often losing track of time as she gets engrossed in the subject.

"If they're going to learn math, they have to learn the process," Vann said. "So, we work a lot of problems and have lots of exams."

Principal Don Snow said Vann, who is head of the math department, is the first to complain if she feels that too many extracurricular activities are eating into her instruction time.

Despite her intensity, Snow said he never receives complaints from parents that Vann is working her students too hard.

"She's a no-nonsense person in the classroom," Snow said. "They (parents) know that she's going to do right by the kids because she's going to work hard and she's going to make them work hard."

While Vann is all business in the classroom, Snow said, she has a sense of humor and cares about the students. She has sponsored the student council, blood drives, cheerleaders and math teams during her tenure.

One of his favorite stories about Vann occurred around her 60th birthday last year. The birthday was during Labor Day weekend, so she hoped that others would forget it.

On Tuesday after Labor Day, Snow appeared at her classroom door.

"I thought he was there for an observation," Vann said.

She said the students began looking outside, hardly paying attention and not giving the right answers, frustrating their teacher. Then the Austin jazz band suddenly appeared on the sidewalk outside her classroom, playing a dirge, with mourners carrying dead flowers following in her honor.

"(Math teacher) Philip Gross said he would take care of me, but I had just forgotten about it," Vann said.

Snow said Vann took the prank in good spirit, and she admits she has softened during the years. She has become more flexible, pushing the students only on the issues that she deems important to their learning.

He also said she's not against learning something new herself. When school officials began evaluating the International Baccalaureate program, Snow said he looked to Vann, English chairwoman Peggy Baggette and social studies chairwoman Mary McKimmon for their opinions.

"They are the people who make Austin as fine an academic school as it is," Snow said. "They helped sell the rest of the people on the value of this program."

Despite this love for teaching, Vann said she plans to retire at the end of the school year. When she looks back on her career, she said she knows it's been a success when she talks to her former students and they say her classes made it easier for them.

"I've had students come back and say, 'I was so prepared when I got to college,' " she said.

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