Lessons Learned

By
Lessons Learned
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle. Freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

The above poem is “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is also the favorite poem of Sharon Garnes, a teacher, a poet, an intelligent woman, a Christian, an inspiration, a friend, a mother, a believer in respect for all things, a wife, and my hero. Mrs. Garnes is my hero because she is the best teacher I’ve had and the most important lesson she taught me is that you can always overcome obstacles.

Mrs. Garnes and her three siblings grew up in Sharon, Pennsylvania, a small steel town on the hilly Pennsylvania/Ohio border. She lived in a small house next to a church. Her father was a pastor, which made her think she had to behave well so that he didn’t lose his job. Her mother was a very neat person who put much pressure on Mrs. Garnes to do her chores the way her mother specified, which clashed with Mrs. Garnes’ disorganized nature. Her mother also made sure that Mrs. Garnes sat, dressed, laughed, and talked like a “lady”. Her mother was also a sort of health nut and watched her children’s health obsessively. Mrs. Garnes did have freedom outside of her home. She would ride her bike up and down the hills, walk to the library, or just enjoy observing nature. A lot of kids have trouble at home but you can overcome that obstacle by getting out of the house and doing something you enjoy. Like most people, Mrs. Garnes has fond memories of her childhood and some not so fond ones.
Her fondest memories of her childhood are of her neighborhood and friends. Her group of friends included many different ethnic groups because of the jobs in steel mills that attracted immigrants to Sharon. The kids would play baseball, play kickball, roller skate, or pick fruit various fruits from the neighbor’s trees for their mother to bake a pie. Unfortunately, childhood wasn’t always fun. There were some challenges she had to face.
School, at that time, was difficult for Mrs. Garnes. She was treated differently because of her race although she was just as intelligent, if not more so, than her Caucasian peers. “I was the first Negro (as we said then) advanced placement student in my district starting from the first grade. At least three of my teachers were forced to teach me and let me know that. In sixth grade, I earned the highest grade in my county on a standardized reading test. County educators felt that my score was rigged, since it was impossible that a Negro child could be the best reader in Mercer County. My second score was the same as my first score; I felt vindicated, but also confused, as then I began to doubt my intelligence, a problem I still have today.” Some obstacles you have to face your whole life but working toward overcoming that obstacle one step at a time can keep you from being overwhelmed. .
Like many adults, Mrs. Garnes’ childhood still affects her today. “I am an over-protective mother to my three boys. I am very free about expressing my disorganized nature; in other words CHAOS is found in my home (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). I am a Christian, but tend not to worry too much about Christian behavior. My focus is on spiritual practice i.e. prayer, service, meditation, etc. I still suffer from low self-esteem because I was criticized a lot [as a child]….”
After finishing school, Mrs. Garnes went on to Chatham College for women to become a teacher. “I wanted to become a teacher because a young woman at that time could be only two things: a teacher or a nurse, and I hated seeing people suffer. Fortunately, I enjoy teaching.” Mrs. Garnes is currently the teacher of a special needs class at Lincoln Middle School (LMS). She says that the hardest part of being a teacher is keeping order in the classroom. Mrs. Garnes also dislikes the fact that many students dislike teachers just for the fact that they are the teachers. Being the special needs teacher is the easiest teaching job according to Mrs. Garnes. “In the moderately mentally handicapped class, they are eager to learn and work so hard. Since the classes are small, keeping order is usually easy. Also, they can be goofy and fun because they aren’t worried about being cool. I guess what inspires me most is that my students work so hard for what I consider paltry results.” As well as being the teacher of a special education class, she is the sponsor of Poetry Club at LMS.
“I love Poetry Club!!” She says the best moments she’s had have been as the poetry club sponsor because she could be on the sidelines and focus the club on the students. “I loved sitting back and listening to the wonderful thoughts you expressed. In my mind, all adolescent education should be student focused.” This is the fourth year of Poetry Club at LMS. Poetry Club is a place where you can get inspiration for writing, support on issues you’re dealing with, feedback on your writing, and just a place to hang out and be with your friends. I remember the first time I went to poetry club; it was so amazing that I couldn’t wait to come back.
It was a Thursday I believe and the final bell had just gone off, I had promised my friend Sasha that I would go with her to Poetry Club. So, I rushed to my locker with hope that it would open without a fight, of course, those twenty-something year old lockers are stubborn and don’t like to open so it took me four tries and a lot of banging my fist on it to open it. By the time I got my stuff shoved untidily in my backpack, I was late. So I came in to a classroom full of kids, backpacks thrown everywhere, and papers all over the teacher’s desk and took a seat next to Sasha. Noticing me and a few other new students, Mrs. Garnes, a petite, dark-skinned woman with dark hair, glasses, and a soft voice, asked that the whole class go around and share their names. It took a while but eventually we were on to sharing poetry. After each poem, we snapped our fingers and complimented the writer. By the time we had to leave for late bus, I was thoroughly convinced that this would be the club I stuck to for the remainder of my stay at Lincoln Middle School. Being a member of Poetry Club is one accomplishment I am proud of.
Major roles in life are obstacles, values, goals, and accomplishments. The hardest obstacle that Mrs. Garnes has had to face is self-doubt. “It comes up all of the time, every day. I have never fully overcome it. Fortunately I have daily tools that keep me from being overwhelmed: prayer, walking, forgiveness, counseling, and slogans...” Values that she believes in are that everyone deserves respect and all children deserve a loving family. Her goals are to raise emotionally, physically, and spiritually fit children, get a free after-school hang out for 7th-10th graders in Pike Township, and learn 1000 Spanish words by December so she doesn’t owe her son Randy $50. Some accomplishments she’s proud of are raising good kids, making it to the fourth year of LMS Poetry club, and how far she’s come in overcoming self-doubt.
When asked what advice she’d give to a teenager who was having a hard time at school or at home, she said, “… develop a skill or a sport that you can be really good at to take your mind off yourself; talk to a sympathetic adult about your troubles just to vent, preferably one that doesn’t know your parents; endure because you are a teenager for a short period of time. You can take almost anything if you know that someday you will have more control over your own life and will be able to find your happiness; avoid the easy way out of your pain offered by getting high, as this might mess up your future…Never consider suicide for more than one second. Life is too beautiful to end it prematurely.”
Mrs. Garnes, my hero, is my inspiration to overcome obstacles in my life. If none of the other things she taught me in Poetry club end up being tremendously useful, I’ll always know that the lesson of never giving up on challenges is the best lesson of all. Never quit trying to conquer things that set you back. Don’t succumb to pressure. Most of all, never give up on yourself or your dreams.

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