To achieve your goals, you have to work harder than anyone else. That's the message two groups of Carrollton Junior High School seventh graders heard Friday when the state Teacher of the Year visited their classrooms during a Career Day event as part of the school's Black History Month observance.
Casey Bethel, a science teacher at New Manchester High School in Douglas County, is the 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year. This school year he is away from the classroom serving as the state ambassador for Georgia teachers and the Department of Education, speaking at educational conferences and other events, and -- on occasion -- visiting classrooms to share his story.
Before he started to talk about himself, he first asked students what they wanted to do when they grew up. After hearing a range of careers from soccer player to molecular biologist, Bethel told the students his dream -- to become a heart surgeon.
"When I was in college, even though I was successful as a student, I found I didn't like the idea of being a heart surgeon," said Bethel. "I remember having to dissect a live frog to study the nervous system. I still remember feeling that frog's heart stop beating in my hand. Even though I was 19 years old, I stood there and started crying.
"I thought, if I can't handle operating on a frog, how would I handle emotionally operating on humans?"
Bethel did continue in the sciences, becoming a geneticist after getting his undergraduate degree in biology from Fort Valley State and master's in plant genetics from the University of Georgia. He remained in Athens for five years conducting experimental genetic research for the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies. In 2005, he decided to try teaching as a "placeholder" until he decided what he really wanted to do as a scientist. Then, he found his true calling. After completing an alternative certification program, he taught at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in DeKalb County from 2005-2013 and has been at New Manchester ever since.
But Bethel also shared with the students that his success did not come easy. He was raised by a single mom and his father was a drug addict who spent years in prison. Many mornings he did not take a shower before school because there was no running water because it had been cut off due to non-payment. But his perseverance and work ethic prevailed. And he encouraged CJHS students to do the same.
"That's what separates successful people from other people," he told the students. "I can honestly say no one ever out-worked me. That's what it takes. You can do it too, if you work hard enough."