In my next life: teacher

This is the second post in a new monthly series called, “In my next life” where I basically pay homage to people whom I admire or whose jobs I’ve dreamt of. See more posts here.

This month’s In My Next Life is one near and dear to my heart. You see, my friend Sheryl Garner is a dynamite. We met when I lived in Washington, DC and have been friends ever since. Sheryl is one of the funniest persons I know. She’s also one of the most passionate, caring, and friendliest persons I know. To know Sheryl is to love Sheryl. She teaches at an elementary school in the DC school district, one of the most challenging school districts in the country due to a number of well-known set-backs like funding, low test scores, and administration problems. Sheryl WANTS so much for these kids to succeed. She eats and breathes it. Her Facebook statuses usually always have something to do with her kids. 
Like many girls growing up, I went through an “I want to be an elementary school teacher” phase. Though I still think there would be fun and rewarding elements to it, my hat is off to every single teacher out there. That’s got to be tough! And probably thankless, for this, I thank you!
Did you always want to be a teacher? Absolutely not! Being the daughter of an immigrant, I felt like I needed to strive for a prestigious profession. My mom worked really hard to give my brother and me the best life possible. Could I really just become a teacher? On top of that make no money. 

How did you get into teaching? After returning from a full-time LDS mission in South Africa and Namibia, I realized my happiest times in my life was when I was teaching people. I then realized if I’m going to give teaching a real shot, I wanted to teach where no one else wanted to teach, more challenging schools. I applied to the Teach For America program, thinking I would definitely fulfill my 2 year responsibility. Five years later, I’m still teaching in a high needs, low performing school in one of the toughest areas of Washington, DC. 

Were there people along the way in your field who you admired or helped you shaped the decision to be a teacher? Well any good decision I’ve ever made, I can see my mom’s help. She encouraged me to keep going even in my most difficult years of teaching which included being stabbed with a pencil and a pen, slapped, punched and kicked by my students. Even this year, teaching a class of 33 students has been such a challenge, especially since there are so many individual needs from my students, but she always reminds me that she is praying for me and that I can do it. There have been some influential co-workers who equally haven’t given up, that keep me going. 

Do you have a mantra or something you live by? There is a Spanish word that I have taped on a window in my classroom, “Ganas”, which means determined. That keeps me from quitting or walking away especially after tough days. 

What’s your favorite part about your job? Spending one-on-one time with my students. I’ve hung out with many of them outside of school to build stronger relationships or to reward them for their academic achievements. “My kids” are special little people. 

How do you juggle the balance of life/work? I’m fortunate to have amazing friends. I don’t have to come up with activities. They usually plan events. I just show up.

What’s one of the most memorable moments of your career so far? I received a card a couple of Valentine’s Days ago.. The card said, “Dear Ms. Garner. Thank you for getting me smart because I want to go to college. Love, Amariah”.  I received nothing else that day except for that homemade card. I wouldn’t have wanted any other way. 

If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing? Helping those in third world countries develop business. But then again, that is teaching, isn’t it? 

This is an awesome video that was made about her and it gives a pretty accurate sense of her passion and dedication to her work (also the importance of her religion to her, which comes closer to the end of the video. Just letting you know in case you would prefer to skip out on that part. But the video is awesome. Promise). Our claim to fame is that our wedding invitation is taped to the wall in the kitchen scene. We’re big time.

What would you do if you could do anything? 

photography by Melissa Smith



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