Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Teachers that Influence Our Lives: A Tribute to Mrs. Naomi Garwood

I work in a profession where most of my colleagues are highly educated. Most of us have two maybe even three professional degrees. Some have even more. Most of us have hours beyond our graduate degrees, yet in our profession, we are almost second class citizens. Most of us are extremely caring. We are passionate about what we do. Yet a lot of people do not hold our profession in high regard. It is a profession where every layman has an opinion and considers themselves an expert and thinks that they have a better way or a better solution.

Teaching is a rewarding career, but it can be extremely frustrating, political, very stressful, and difficult. Why would anyone want to do it? Some say, "June, July, and August". Sure the breaks are nice, but also necessary. I think anyone would go insane without them, and in reality, a lot of teachers will have second jobs during the summer and/or will be taking summer classes, working on their masters degrees or gaining more post graduate hours, in order to claw their way up the pay scale.
Teachers are important! They shape our lives. They mold our minds. They make us think. They influence who we are to become.
In my days as a grade school student, I can think of my favorite teachers, teachers who had a real positive impact on my life; unknowingly putting my life on a path I didn't know I was on until much later. Looking back, the teacher who influenced me the most, the person who gave me a curiosity about science and of a world of travel and adventure, was my 7th grade science teacher; Naomi Garwood.

It is hard to remember a lot of details about 7th grade, when a person is 12 years old , especially when they are now 48...it was a long time ago. But I remember Mrs. Garwood as a kind lady who loved teaching science. She seemed old at the time, but looking back at it now, she was about the same age as I am now.

Mrs. Garwood was the first person I knew that had lived outside the United States. She and her husband had worked as international teachers in Thailand and in Bolivia. I remember her talking about Bolivia in class. I remember being in awe by these stories. I believe she showed us slides of the giant Nazca drawings in the desert of Peru. I can vaguely remember her showing us slides of all sort of interesting things she saw and did in South America. It gave me a real curiosity of the place.
Today I was yakking to my high school students about what they need to do in class today, to be prepared for university in the future. Somehow I got off on the tangent of the convoluted tale about my days in college and of how I became a teacher and the people who influenced me the most in choosing my profession; my grandfather, an educator/administrator for 60 years! And Mrs. Garwood...a teacher who loved science, loved her students, and loved adventure!
My first few years as a teacher, something was gnawing at me. I was never satisfied where I was. I was always wanting a different experience. I loved/love the Navajo Indian Reservation. It was/is as about as close to a South America-like experience as one could get without leaving the comfort of the USA.

After a few years on the Rez, I moved back to my hometown and tried public school and found it sucked! The students I had were enjoyable and good for the most part. There were some messed up students coming from messed up situations, but I could deal with that. I could accept that...It was my job to try to make things better for the student. What was really horrible about public schools were the administrators! EGAD! I could not take it after a while. I quit and tried my hand at entrepreneurship. When that failed, it was back to school teaching eventually, and I decided to go back where I was the happiest...the REZ!

My second gig on the Rez was great, but still there was this thing gnawing at me. I wanted more. I wanted to go to South America like Mrs. Garwood. So one day, I started the process, took the leap and went to a job fair and landed in Venezuela (boy howdy!). I met the woman of my dreams here and have had a great number of adventures...except I have not seen the Nazca drawings in Peru...yet.
I have kept Mrs. Garwood in my mind my whole career. I always wanted to be a teacher like her; caring, interesting, competent.
After my students left today, I had a free period, so I did an Internet search on Mrs. Garwood. I found her obituary in the Albuquerque Journal. She died on September 3, 2008! I was shocked! Mainly because she had died so recently, especially when I was in Albuquerque in August. I cried right there at my desk. I felt so sad, and felt a deep sense of loss. I had no idea she lived in Albuquerque. If I would have known, I believe I would have tried to contact her. It would have been nice to visit with her and tell her of her influence on me and my career and life choice.

Thank you Mrs. Garwood!
You'll be missed.

PS: I still have that small Bolivian wool rug/wall hanging you gave me at the end of the school year.


ybonesy said...

MM, Gosh I hope I remember my Google account name so I can leave this comment. This was so poignant, I got tears in my eyes. Bless her heart and yours for such a loving tribute to her.

It's amazing isn't it, how she planted that seed for you?! And imagine what a trailblazer she was. I bet she was like no one you really knew back then.

Also, it is such a strange feeling that she died right after you were here. I wonder what her health was like at that point. Would she have been able to recognize you? We'll never know.

Great post. BTW, I appreciate all my daughters' teachers and all the ones I had, too. Many inspired me.

Mimbres Man said...

Thanks Ybonesy.
I liked her...I never think of myself influencing my students. But maybe I am. I don't know...
Today I invited them (the high schoolers) to go on a Tran-America bicycle tour with me in 2010. They think I am kidding, but I am not. I can see that some are spinning the gears in their heads.
I would be cool to take a couple of students on a tour. Trans-Am might be too much, but maybe a week or two would be fun.

Bruce said...

Phenomenal writing and remembrance. Spooky too.

Makes me wanna google my 7th grade science teacher, Fred Benkert. He was as influential in my outdoors enthusiasm as my family.

Ones teachers, good and bad, influence us largely because of their time in contact with us, often more time than some parents during the school year. They are also *supposed* to be non-judgmental (and for the most part are).

You are right that as a profession educators are much denigrated. This may be because those that do denigrate had bad experiences. Good luck on that front. It's largely why I'm not in the classroom now.

SS:Mtn Biker said...

See,Mims, told you this would make both a cool and touching post!

Tho you'd already shared this part of your life with me,I found myself tearing up as I read. Great post,my friend!

I hope Tania and you have a great weekend! As for us,we're just going to try and stay warm,and keep the water running...it was -6F this morning (and -1 as I type),and for the first time in his 2 1/2 years,Spot's inside (yes,that's actually our Austrn Shepard's name =P).


SS:Mtn Biker said...

That's "Astrian Shepard"...dang keyboard! :-P