Louise Harwell is packing up her brains, bones and microscopes.
The Eastside High School science teacher is wrapping up her teaching career after 30 years in the classroom. And when she thinks about her retirement, she gets choked up. Though some may see teaching as just a job, for her, it has always been a passion.
Harwell, who is on the books as a former NCSS Teacher of the Year and semifinalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year, began her career with the NCSS at then Sharp Middle School in 1977.
She was an eighth-grade science teacher until the school closed as a middle school in 1994.
Harwell then took her scientific knowledge to the newly opened Eastside, which served as both a middle school and high school for grades six–nine. She continued to teach middle school science, but also took on a ninth-grade physical science class.
When Indian Creek Middle School opened in 1998, Harwell decided she liked teaching high school students and stayed at Eastside, which became a full-fledged high school.
“I decided to stay with high school because it was time for a change and that’s been one of my philosophies — that change is good,” Harwell said. “You shouldn’t get stuck in one place for too long.”
And now, it’s time for her to enjoy her retirement. But before leaving EHS in a couple of weeks, she reminisced about her career.
Helping students understand the world around them is her favorite aspect of being a science teacher.
“What can be more important than studying the human body and understanding how it works and how to best understand how it works?” Harwell said. “I think teaching science is very relevant to the kids and their well-being.
“If I can help them see the current issues and how it’s going to affect them in the future, then I can help them become good consumers for science issues.”
She explains that she loves sharing the knowledge she’s gained, and, “I love to see that light shine in their eyes when they catch on to something, when you are trying to help them understand. I love the sense of humor that you have to keep when working with young people. If you don’t have a sense of humor, this job is not for you.”
At Eastside, Harwell said, she has loved interacting with students.
She has attended a number of school plays, sporting events and other after-school activities through the years and she wishes more teachers would attend such events to support their students.
It helps to build connections, she said.
“That’s what I’m going to miss, is the involvement with the kids,” Harwell said with a smile. “Honestly, I’m 61 and I feel like they’ve literally helped me keep a young spirit and a fun attitude with life. It’s been great.”
Harwell said she’ll also miss the lifelong friends she has met at school and the strong administration of the Newton County School System.
The most valuable lesson she has learned through teaching and dealing with people, she said, is that you never know what others are dealing with inside emotionally, financially or at home.
“I may not know which kid it is, but I always try to be cognizant of that, that someone maybe doesn’t have a happy home life and that will affect their learning.
“That also carried over into the adult people who I deal with,” Harwell said. “You try not to be callous with comments and that kind of stuff.”
Harwell said anyone who has just started teaching or who is interested in the career should love the job and always be willing to learn
Her advice: “Be firm, be fair, be consistent and be prepared.”
As for her last class of graduating seniors, Harwell said she hopes that they all make good decisions and take care of themselves, but most importantly, “Don’t ever let a day pass without learning.”
Harwell and her husband Nat, also a teacher, have been married for almost 40 years.
They have three adult children, Francine, Christie and Davis; and two grandchildren.