While teaching elementary-aged children might be considered by some as challenging, Red Bud Elementary teacher Kelly Pendley chooses to look at her job as a project. In her perspective, if a student isn’t learning well, she’s not doing her job well.

Pendley started her career with Gordon County Schools as a bus driver and special education paraprofessional before completing her teaching degree from Reinhardt University. And teaching both exceptional students and gifted students in third grade, Pendley is always changing her approach to teaching with one significant constant – the student is always the priority.

When curriculum isn’t making sense to a student, she alters her teaching approach to fit the needs of each individual without disregarding the learning styles of other students in the class. She works with parents, students and other teachers in the building to make sure all students are getting the best possible education.

Pendley was announced in March to be one of the three finalists for Gordon County Schools’ district-wide Teacher of the Year Award, along with Nikki Hampton, from W.L. Swain, and Jayme Crowley, from Fairmount Elementary School.

And according to Red Bud’s Assistant Principal Monica Holt, having Pendley in the district’s top three isn’t a surprise.

“(Kelly’s) a true change agent in our school, not just for our kids but for our staff,” Holt said. “She teaches more than curriculum, what she teaches kids and teaches me every day is we all have something to learn.”

Holt said the school is thrilled to have one of their own teachers recognized among the top three finalists for the award, adding that Pendley shows the community that Red Bud is still an exciting place to be.

Pendley, who said she was “born to teach,” couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else. She said the classroom is a place where she feels safe and comfortable.

“When I’m having a bad day or morning, things are crazy, I’m spilling the coffee and the teens are acting up, when I get (to school) and start teaching, I just love it. It’s always been that way,” Pendley said.

Pendley is known around the school as the campus’s “energizer bunny,” never running out of excitement and positivity despite challenges within classroom and having six children of her own. But following along with her teaching philosophy, the third-grade teacher said she strives to be always growing and constantly learning.

“I will do whatever it takes to figure out how they learn best,” Pendley said. “I want to push all students to go higher than they ever imagined possible.”

This year, Pendley’s class motto is “mistakes are learning,” and over the course of the academic year, she’s amended it to say, “mistakes are learning if you find out what caused that mistake and try something new.”

Making an example for her students by showing them she is constantly transforming into a better teacher and learning from her mistakes, Pendley aims to demonstrate how to be a life-long learner.

“These are the years that (students are) forming and these years are so important,” Pendley said. “The more that they’re challenged but that it’s safe for them to make mistakes, I think and hope that too will shape them as they get older.”

In response to her nomination for Teacher of the Year, Pendley said she would love to have a bigger platform to show teachers the potential influence they have on their students, and how much “attitude is everything.”

“At the end of each school year, my hope is that all students leave my classroom feeling loved, confident and excited about learning,” Pendley said. “I hope this love for learning continues throughout their lives.”

Pendley has earned a Master’s of Education in early childhood education from Piedmont College and is currently pursuing a specialist degree in curriculum and instruction, planning to graduate in 2019.

The 2019-2020 Gordon County Schools’ Teacher of the Year will be named at a banquet held in honor of the three finalists on April 30.