In 2004, as a first year teacher, Cindy Bazzell established her lifetime teaching goal. She decided that she would strive to be nominated for Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year during her career.
The self-admitted multi-tasker and mother of two has reached that goal at age 31. This year, Brookwood High School’s marketing and business education teacher represented the school in Gwinnett’s very competitive program.
Bazzell didn’t start out to be a teacher. She graduated from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia with a dual major in marketing and management information systems. As part of her program, she interned at a large company working in project coordination and web development. Offered a full time job, she realized it was not for her.
“I would go to work every day and sit at the same desk with the same blue walls," said Bazzell, who is a mother and wife. "We checked things off lists. There was no human involvement at all. I dreaded going to work."
Becoming a Teacher
While making her decision about whether to stay, she remembered her time in college volunteering to help tutor special needs children at a local elementary school.
“This experience grew into my heart’s desire to become a teacher,” she said.
“I wanted to make a difference and be the catalyst for someone in their life. I chose the road less taken and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made."
Bazzell turned down the job and immediately applied to UGA’s College of Education and was accepted into the occupational studies master’s program. Less than two years later, she had earned a master's degree in teaching, certified in both marketing and business education. As part of the program, she student taught at Brookwood High School and was offered a full-time business education position beginning in the fall of 2004.
During her first five years, Bazzell taught computer science and served as head coach of the ninth grade and then the junior varsity girls’ basketball teams. She also coached girls’ softball. As a high school student at Parkview -- one of Brookwood's rivals, Bazzell played softball, basketball and ran track, so the coaching came easily.
“My loyalties are with Brookwood now,”Bazzell said. “All it took was coaching one time against Parkview and my loyalties changed very fast.”
In addition to teaching and sports, she eventually inherited the marketing lab, also known as the school store, when Brookwood’s marketing teacher retired.
“Sales were low, student involvement was minimal, and a majority of the student body didn’t know the store even existed,” she said. “It had not been a focus. Something had to be done.”
Bazzell took applications for second-year marketing students to register for an advanced marketing course and then placed those students in the marketing lab full time to learn real-world applications rather than from a textbook. The store transformed "into a a productive, student-run retail establishment," she said.
That first year the store brought in $34,000 in sales. Previously, it was a tenth of that. Spirit wear, school supplies and special orders for faculty helped turn things around. This year, the store introduced Nike brands.
Learning by Example
Setting high standards for her students was easy. She had good role-models. Her grandmother, Modean Leathers, has been a source of inspiration, having grown up with her six siblings on a dirt farm in Turner County in the time of the Great Depression. Leaving the farm at 16 bound for Atlanta, her grandmother put herself through business school and eventually became the first female officer of a bank, Bazzell added.
She “is basically the meaning of do your best and never give up," she said.
Today, Modean Leathers is battling lymphoma. And, when her doctor wanted to put her in hospice care, that fighting spirit came through.
"My grandmother asked the doctor why she couldn’t have chemotherapy. The doctor said she wouldn’t survive it. She said she wouldn’t survive hospice either,” Bazzell chuckled. “She doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Apparently, neither does Bazzell, who also received her educational specialist degree. In addition, she's led the school's DECA chapter to win several awards, was a finalist for the Georgia Computer Technology New Marketing Teacher of the Year award in 2009 and was the Georgia Marketing Education Association Teacher of the Month in 2008.
"I set my standards high and my expectations even higher," she said. "I do not accept that there is a student in my program who isn’t capable if they are given the tools to succeed, and those tools come from the instruction I provide.”
“I love the students,” she added. “Every student that steps through my classroom is different. I love the challenge of figuring out how to meet each individual's needs.
"Everyday when I go to work, I affect the lives of 150 kids or more, even the ones who aren’t in my class.”