Teachers have the ability to alter a student’s life beyond the classroom, and that much and more is evident in Hart County teachers, according to recent graduates.
As National Teacher Appreciation Month draws to a close, students are sharing how much of an impact several Hart County teachers had on their lives.
Recent graduate Bekah Stewart said she took just about every agriculture-related class that teacher Anna Smith had to offer. Stewart said Smith was a teacher who definitely had the biggest impact on her in high school.
“She has really pushed me to be the best version of myself all throughout high school,” Stewart said.
Hoping to one day become a veterinarian, Stewart said Smith taught her a lot about animals in the classroom, but it was more than just academics Smith taught her.
“She also taught me you don’t get anywhere without hard work,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who was FFA president while in school, hopes to bring her work ethic with her to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, where she plans to attend college in the fall.
Smith’s hands-on approach to teaching connected with Stewart, she said. For agriculture classes, Smith would often take students on field trips to poultry farms or fish farms, learning the ins-and-outs of agriculture through first-hand experience.
“She’s a very hands-on kind of teacher,” Stewart said. “She’s not just a book and paper kind of person, so that was really helpful for me and a lot of students. We were able to get out of the classroom and have a little fun with it.”
For Stewart, having the right teacher makes a world of difference.
“When you have a teacher that actually cares about you as a person, not just you getting good grades, it makes a world of difference,” Stewart said.
Another recent graduate, Rendarris Gaines, had trouble narrowing down just one teacher who made a major impact on his life because he had several he could say that about. Ultimately though, Gaines said music teacher Alan Tolbert impacted his life in the most positive way.
Gaines said Tolbert helped boost his confidence, something he needed to be the drum major in the Hart County High School Band.
“If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Gaines said. “... I probably wouldn’t have the courage I have today for a lot of reasons. Plus, I used to be a nervous wreck.”
A lot of time was spent after class or after band practice having discussions with Tolbert, Gaines said, about how to improve on whatever he needed help with.
“Some things I would try to do on my own it wouldn’t work out and sometimes it would,” Gaines said. “Instead of just randomly fussing at me, he would tell me ‘this is probably something I think would be better, have you ever thought about doing this in this way?’”
While band itself is a challenge enough, Gaines said, Tolbert would challenge him further by creating scenarios that Gaines could potentially encounter while conducting the band. Tolbert would sometimes ask Gaines to change a pattern while he was conducting and then find a way to get back on beat without stopping conducting, Gaines said, ultimately preparing him for when a problem could arise.
Gaines said Tolbert often went beyond his duties as a teacher and band instructor.
“This was with every student, he was like ‘if you ever need anything’ he would help us with it,” Gaines said.
Gaines compared Tolbert’s teaching style to a parent-type where “you get it your way, but of course there are boundaries, plenty of boundaries.”
“He brings his own experiences into it, instead of just the by-the-book way of learning,” Gaines said.
By the end of his high school career, Gaines said he and the rest of his classmates had memorized most of Tolbert’s stories by heart.
Unsure if he wants to continue his music career, Gaines plans to attend Howard University in the spring of 2021 where he hopes to double major in criminology and psychology, while minoring in performing arts. However, he’ll still take the lessons learned in Tolbert’s classes with him to college.
“He’s a very good role model,” Gaines said about Tolbert. “Honestly if it wasn’t for him, I feel like half of all the band kids wouldn’t be where they are today because he brought a lot of us out of our comfort zones.”