I once heard the legendary Auburn football coach, Pat Dye, say that the iconic Auburn running back, Bo Jackson, was “a difference maker.” He was.
Megan Garner joins our Teacher Spotlight Series as we expand through North Jefferson and share our first in the series from Corner High School.
To borrow from Coach Dye, and simply put, Megan Garner is a difference maker.
Treye Hanner: Tell us a little about you and how you decided to become a teacher?
Megan Garner: I have been a teacher for about 15 years. I am originally from Smokerise. I am a graduate of Hayden High School, Wallace State, and have a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education Language Arts from the University of Alabama.
Since I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher or a famous singer! As a young child, my parents instilled in me the value of the arts. We always attended children’s theatre, had music playing around the house and in the car, sang as a family, and I loved every second of it. I loved singing, making up songs, and being a part of church and community plays.
As, I got older, I had some amazing teachers who taught me how to treat children and relate to them on their level. Even though my plan changed quite a few times on my journey, it was because of those inspiring teachers that I embarked on my educational path through education and the arts.
Now, here at Corner High School, where I am in my tenth year teaching and directing, I get to accomplish both of my original dreams. I have the privilege of getting to do a little singing and acting as the director of the Corner Theatre Academy!
Treye Hanner: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
Megan Garner: My students. Helping my students to grow as actors, singers, and technicians, is an amazing experience, but being able to mentor them and watch them become outstanding adults, no matter what path they choose, that is the true gift for me as a teacher.
I have theatre students who become doctors, teachers, lawyers, parents, skilled workers, entrepreneurs, and only a small few that attempt an acting or singing career. The overall goal is to help mold these young individuals into good humans.
We have outstanding kids at Corner and watching them grow into some of the best adults I have ever met, that is my true success. Being able to be a small glimmer of light on life’s path for these young people to find their way and become truly successful, good, kind humans of integrity is a true blessing for me as a teacher.
Treye Hanner: Are there special moments where you say to yourself, “this is why I teach?”
Megan Garner: All the time. Even in my English and Creative Writing classes, when I teach and see the engagement and understanding within the students; those are good days. Teaching definitely comes with its challenges, but having the opportunity to be a small part of a young person’s story is truly a gift to be handled with care.
In Corner Theatre, we rehearse a lot. The kids get tired, I get tired, yet we keep going. Usually, my reminder of why I teach is one of those days where I realize the power of education and theatre. In those days, when we are the most weary, something magical will happen. Things will graciously fall into place in a show or with a specific student. Maybe the show just wasn’t working or maybe the student just wasn’t getting the direction of the character….then, it happens. You have that one day where that show or that student has a breakthrough. The mannerisms change. The energy is more intense. The ensemble is together and glowing. The technical students are completely perfect and on point with their cues. The leads are immaculate in their characterization, movement, and diction. Those are the moments.
When rehearsals end, we have notes, and everyone involved felt the difference. We have those moments often at CTA. We have good days and bad days for sure, but those moments, those are why we do what we do. They are why I do what I do. To see pure engagement and sense of accomplishment in a student is such a special feeling. The many accolades we have received for our shows and students are a testament to those feelings.
Treye Hanner: What challenges have you experienced while having to teach through the pandemic?
Megan Garner: The pandemic has taken an emotional toll on my students. They are much less likely to talk to me or even one another. They are less likely to work in groups even when prompted or to even attend school on a regular basis.
The heaviest effect of the pandemic though is on their mental health. From being at home, and sometimes alone, for so long, many of our students have lost their motivation, their need to excel, their willingness to participate, and their means to cope with stressful or difficult situations.
Almost every day, I will have a student (or multiple) become emotional and sometimes distraught over a common life situation. Some may begin in anger or sadness, but the anxiety and depression are very real.
High school was hard enough for our students long before the pandemic. Now, they struggle to deal with some of the daily and common stressors of life. We talk through the situation every time. Sometimes we may take a break and remove ourselves just to take a breath and recover.
My heart breaks for the mental health of these students almost daily, and I can only hope we get more and more mental health professionals for each of our schools to help our kids begin to revive and thrive.
Treye Hanner: What’s the one thing you would like people to know about teachers?
Megan Garner: We love, respect, and believe in our students. Even on their worst days, through the anger, tears, apathy, frustration, and sometimes worse, we genuinely care about our kids, their welfare, and their success.
We are here to support them and try to help them succeed in this life at whatever it is they may choose to do. It may be English class, Theatre, or even a sport, but no matter the subject or activity at hand, we are truly working to mold these students into the best versions of themselves.
We celebrate them, their differences, their thoughts, their triumphs, and their success. Then, we choose to help them learn and grow from the losses and failures. We are not very highly paid professionals, but we knew that going in. Our salary doesn’t define the good we do in the world on a daily basis.
Most of us work extremely long hours because we care and we love what we do. The work of a teacher simply never ends, and that’s okay. Even on our own worst days, if a student needs us or has a problem, we are there. Through our students, we are often reminded that we got into this teaching gig to change lives, and that is the goal every single day.