Durham Middle School Crowns Michele Downey Phenomenal Friday Teacher of the Week

Durham Middle School eighth grader Jaylen crowned his former teacher Michele Downey the Phenomenal Friday Teacher of the Week during a celebration January 26. Durham students and Tyler Gwynn, Cobb County School District recruitment supervisor, along with representatives from Chick-fil-A and Outback Steakhouse helped honor Downey.

When Michele Downey was in middle school, one of her teachers predicted that she was going to be a teacher because of Downey’s desire to help her fellow students. Her teacher was correct. Today, Downey is in her twelfth year teaching Durham Middle School students. However, her former teacher is not the only one who has recognized her teaching ability.

While thanking her for the impact she has had on his life, eighth grader Jaylen crowned his former language arts teacher the Phenomenal Friday Teacher of the Week January 26.

“Ms. Downey deserves it. She helped me. She helped me stay on track with my grades, turn in my work, stay focused in class and not get off task, not get into trouble, to be a good kid,” Jaylen explained. “Seeing her reaction really made my week. It probably made my year.”

Durham Middle School eighth grader Jaylen crowned his former teacher Michele Downey the Phenomenal Friday Teacher of the Week during a celebration January 26.

When Downey heard Jaylen talking on the school’s morning news about the teacher who had influenced him the most, she hoped he was talking about her.

“I feel like we have made a pretty good connection,” Downey said while talking about Jaylen. “I always check in on him to see how he is doing.”

The Phenomenal Teacher and her former student even share the same favorite memory from when Jaylen was in Downey’s seventh grade class.

“I always ask the students to let me know what they want to be called if it is not on my student roster. Jaylen asked if he could be called Demetrius,” Downey said chuckling. “I said, ‘that’s not your middle name,’ but he really wanted to be called Demetrius. I jokingly told him that he if called me your highness I would call him Demetrius. All year long, he called me your highness, and every time he did it I called him Demetrius.” 

Just like she has done with Jaylen, Downey tries to connect with all of her students on an individual level. She strives to have conversations with each of her students to build a stronger teacher-student relationship and ultimately increase the student’s chance of success. When her students advance to the eighth grade, she stops them in the hallway and asks them, “Are you continuing to make me proud?”

She enjoys learning how her former students are succeeding in life. On the day Jaylen crowned Downey the Phenomenal Teacher, she got that opportunity. One of her former students was part of the Phenomenal Friday surprise patrol.

Jacob Bettis, who serves as the restaurant marketing director at Chick-fil-A Brookstone, escorted the Chick-fil-A cow to the event and presented his former teacher with a gift basket to thank her for her dedication to her students.

Durham Middle School eighth grader Jaylen crowned his former teacher Michele Downey the Phenomenal Friday Teacher of the Week during a celebration January 26. Jacob Bettis, who serves as the restaurant marketing director at Chick-fil-A Brookstone, escorted the Chick-fil-A cow to the event and presented his former teacher with a gift basket to thank Downey for her dedication to her students like him.

Bettis has attended about 15 Phenomenal Friday celebrations, but Durham’s Phenomenal Friday was the first one where he had the opportunity to see one of his former teachers selected. The Chick-fil-A marketing director smiled as he recalled his time in Downey’s seventh grade social studies class.

“I remember learning the countries of Africa. I remember [Ms. Downey] always trying to make it fun in a way we could relate to. She was very upbeat and friendly, and that was very significant to kids our age,” he said.

Chick-fil-A wasn’t the only community organization on hand to celebrate Downey as the Phenomenal Friday Teacher of the Week. Representatives from Outback Steakhouse also presented Downey with thank you gifts and left coupons for each Durham teacher to order a free Bloomin’ Onion from the restaurant.

“To have the community’s support is really overwhelming,” gushed Downey. “It is something, as a teacher, that you never really expect.” 

Even as a student, Jaylen understands the importance of recognizing teachers for making a difference in their students’ lives, and he was proud he had the opportunity to honor his former language arts teacher.

“It is always nice to hear accolades from other faculty members, but I feel it is closer to my heart when it comes from my students,” Downey confessed. “That’s how I know that I am on the right path and I’m doing the right thing. It means the world to me to know that what I’m doing is impacting students.”