At the age of 38, James McGaw found himself. Now 22 years later, he'll play a new tune. Mr. McGaw is retiring as music teacher from Dearing Elementary School.
"At the age of 38, I started teaching at Dearing Elementary School. They found me as a person. I really didn't know who I was until I became a teacher," Mr. McGaw said during the McDuffie County Schools Retirement Celebration.
Dearing Elementary School Music Teacher Jim McGaw and Thomson High School Automotive Teacher Chan Drake talk during Monday night's banquet. Both men retired at the end of the school year.
Photo by Staff
Principal Laura Hughes said Mr. McGaw will pursue a career in professional music composition.
"He told me he has lots of new toys, and now he's going to have time to play with them," she said.
Mr. McGaw was one of the 11 retirees honored during the program at Thomson High School Monday night. Each retiree was introduced by their principal, and then delivered their own final speech.
The honorees masterfully summarized more than 20 years of service into a few brief sentences. Many speakers brought laughter, a few shed tears, and they all acknowledged with gratitude the significant people in their lives who helped in their success.
Mr. McGaw wasn't the only person to admit learning lessons from being a teacher. Thomson Middle School's Mary Lowe spoke of the challenges she faced in her 31 years of "keeping up with the ever changing times in education." Her challenges were not students, but legislative-induced paperwork, standardized testing, and monitoring content on the internet.
"Honestly, it amazes me that I still look as young as I do," Mrs. Lowe said with a laugh, referring to her experiences with the internet.
Two teachers, Nancy Foster and Beverly Milford, are not "totally leaving," according to Mrs. Hughes, but will return to Dearing part time.
"To have a job that you love and enjoy, and to know that it makes a difference, what could be better?" said Ms. Milford.
The teachers who retired from the McDuffie County School System gathered after the banquet for a picture.
Photo by Staff
Love and dedication for the job brought praise from Thomson High's Principal Rudy Falana for Automotive Vocational Teacher, Chan Drake. Like Mr. McGaw, Mr. Drake began teaching later in life.
"He has not missed a single day of work in the 20 years since he took the position," Mr. Falana said of Mr. Drake. "If you think Coach Welsh has won a lot of (football) championships, listen to Chan Drake's list - 15 state championships and five times placing in the top 10 in the nation."
Coworkers and family members of each retiree also attended the program. Thomson Middle School teacher Steve Kay introduced his parents who "drove from Alabama to witness this event."
"They probably did it because they are amazed I could keep this job for 29 years," he said
Following the program, a reception was held in the high school mall area. The Thomson High School Jazz Band played background music as friends and family browsed photographs at each retiree's table and signed their memory books. The event was coordinated by Brenda Petersen, wife of McDuffie School Superintendent Dr. Mark Petersen.
"I know I am going to miss going to school every day, but I look forward to retirement," said Rebecca Smith, Maxwell Elementary teacher. "We are very fortunate in our system that we pull together as a team, from kindergarten through 12th grade, not just within our own schools. It is evident that we do this by the success in the graduating test scores."
Celebrating a career of teaching
Retirees who were honored are:
Nancy Foster, Dearing Elementary School Teacher
Beverly Milford, Dearing Elementary School Teacher.
Nellie Andino-Rodriguez, Dearing Elementary School Teacher
Telaine Sneed, Dearing Elementary School Teacher
Lynette Johnson, Dearing Elementary School
Food and Nutrition Services Manager
James McGaw, Dearing Elementary School Teacher
Chan Drake, Thomson High School Teacher
Jeannie Wilds, Thomson High School Teacher
Mary Lowe, Thomson Middle School Teacher
Steve Kay, Thomson Middle School Teacher
Rebecca Smith, Maxwell Elementary School Teacher