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Faculty Profile: Ashley Burnett, Middle School Spanish Teacher

Ashley Burnett is the Middle School Spanish teacher. She has worked at Rabun Gap for four years and holds a a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Western Carolina University, has a Teaching English as a Second Language Certificate, and has done graduate work in TESOL through Western Carolina University. Before coming to Rabun Gap, she taught first and second grade at Trimont Christian Academy and has experience teaching ESL and Spanish at both the college and high school levels. Rabun Gap is a special place for Ms. Burnett and her family. Her four daughters Lexi ‘22, Layla ‘25, Mya ‘28, and Sophia ‘30 attend school here. In her free time, Ms. Burnett enjoys working out, hiking, and watching football.

How long have you been working at Rabun Gap?
I am finishing up my 4th year at Rabun Gap. 

What made you choose to work at Rabun Gap?
I am from Franklin and growing up I remember driving by and seeing the campus from the road and imagining what going to school there would be like. When I first became a teacher I worked in the public school system and I had very large classes with few resources. Once I had children and they began going to school, it was difficult to have everyone in different schools with varying schedules. My sister Julia Johnson, the Lower School Counselor got a job here and told me they were looking for a Spanish Teacher. I immediately applied. I was ecstatic to be able to work at such a prestigious school and to have all four of my daughters be able to attend Rabun Gap.  
What did you do before coming to Rabun Gap?
I spent my summers in Costa Rica for several years because my father lived there. My family moved to Miami from Cuba and they all speak Spanish in the home. I decided after traveling abroad that I wanted to be able to speak Spanish fluently, so I majored in Spanish and communications. I went to UNC Wilmington and WCU. I did not know what I wanted to do with my degree until I graduated and I got my first job teaching in a school. I went back to school and did a 3 year teaching certification program while working as a high school Spanish and ESL teacher. I worked in the public school system for 3 years and then decided to stay home with my daughters while they were small. I also taught at Southwestern Community College in the evenings. I taught English as a Second Language to adults for 5 years, worked on my masters in TESOL and homeschooled my 4 children. After that I decided to return to teaching full time,  but I wanted my children to all be in one school, so I got a job at Trimont Christian Academy teaching 1st and 2nd Grade. I taught there for 5 years. I liked teaching elementary but I missed teaching Spanish and working with international students so I applied to Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School and got the job as a Middle School Spanish teacher. This was the perfect fit for our family. 

What makes Rabun Gap special to you?
Rabun Gap is special to me because it feels like a big family. My children and I have made lifelong friends here. The first year I came to Rabun Gap my eldest daughter was in 10th grade and she immediately made best friends with a girl from Bulgaria and a girl from Germany. They came home with us for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break. Hosting my children's friends during breaks became such a wonderful learning experience for our whole family. We made food from their home countries, and learned new traditions and languages. I think being around students from all over the world is my favorite part of Rabun Gap. I have truly learned so much about the world through spending time with such a diverse faculty and student body. I have always wanted my children to embrace and love people from all walks of life and it is such a beautiful thing for them to be a part of this community. 

Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I originally wanted to work in international relations, however my first job out of college was a teaching position at a public school. I fell in love with the students, the environment, the schedule, and the community. I always enjoyed school, extra curricular activities, and learning new things so it ended up being the perfect job for me. I realized how nice it was to be on the same schedule as my children. I also found that teaching students to speak another language opens so many doors for them and offers them the ability to connect with people from different countries. I want to bridge the gap that exists in communication and bring more empathy and understanding into the classroom. Teaching Spanish is more than just teaching a language, it's teaching about cultures, traditions, foods, geography, music, dance, and people. I have had the opportunity to teach students from elementary up to adults and I have found that what I love most is watching students' confidence in their abilities grow. I love when a student gets a new concept for the first time. 

What is it like working at the same school that your children attend(ed)?
I think it's wonderful! My girls and I are very close, they like being able to stop by my room and ride together everyday. I really like being on campus whenever they are doing performances or playing in games. We kind of eat, sleep, and breathe life together here at Rabun Gap, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

What was your favorite memory from the Middle School boys soccer season this year?
I have been the soccer coach for the Middle School boys team for 4 years. I played soccer all through high school and it is one of my favorite sports. Each year we lose great players to the upper school and we have to rebuild. Last year we had 12, 8th graders so this year I was worried we would really struggle, however I had a team who loved the game and they ended up exceeding my expectations. I did not have a goalie, so several of the boys stepped in and tried it. In our first game we tied 1 to 1, but when we played that same team again at the end of the season we beat them 10-1! The boys came to soccer everyday ready to play and it was an honor to coach them!
What do you like most about working with our students?  
I think Rabun Gap has the most diverse and talented group of kids I have ever been around. I like being able to be a teacher, mentor, and coach. I think getting to interact with students in different environments allows me the opportunity to build relationships with them. My favorite thing about working with our students is their attitude towards learning and being a part of everything this school has to offer. It is almost like magic when a child struggles to learn a new concept or skill and then one day they get it! I love seeing them make connections with the world and people around them. I have the unique opportunity to have the same students for 3 years and to watch them go from knowing almost zero Spanish to speaking, reading, writing, and understanding the language. 
What is your favorite memory from the time you have worked here so far?
One of my favorite memories from working at Rabun Gap is last year when the middle school boys soccer team won the Tri-State Championship and they dumped the entire cooler on my head! It was freezing, but I felt honored! I was so proud of the boys and it was one of those moments that will forever be remembered. 
What’s the  most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
I was a cheerleader all through high school. I was the captain of the cheerleading team my senior year. I moved back to Franklin after going to UNCW for college and married my middle school crush. We have been married for 20 years this September. 
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School is a private, coeducational day and boarding school for grades Pre-K through 12. Centrally located between Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, and Asheville, NC, we prepare young people for college, career, and a lifetime of leadership and service.