Howard has the ability to recall details, people and places in Murray without hesitation. He passes the information on not only to his students at Bagley, but to adults who take his Murray on My Mind class and to those in the Leadership Murray class, where he teaches a section on local history.
“I have been very blessed to have gotten to do what I always wanted to do,” Howard said. “From elementary school on I was interested in history with a slant toward local history ... I’ve been very blessed to have stayed in the same place for so long.”
Howard is in his 32nd year as a teacher in Murray County, which he says is his last. Howard began his teaching career in special education. He has mostly taught eighth-grade social studies, but also language arts and even a year of math. He was at Murray County Junior High until middle schools were formed and split into Bagley and Gladden in 1989.
“If I have been a good teacher, it’s because I’ve truly loved what I’ve done and never stopped learning,” Howard said. “Students ask me how I know (history). It’s because I’ve never stopped learning.”
When a pastor at Howard’s church resigned he said, “I have brought the church as far as I can,” which Howard thought was wise of him to realize. And that’s how Howard feels now in the classroom, like he’s brought students as far as he can.
“I always prayed I’d know when to let things go,” he said.
With changes to standards and methods of teaching in the last few years, Howard says he knows it’s time to retire.
“They want you to use technology ... I’m not where I want to change because I don’t think it’s all for the best,” he said.
Spencer Gazaway, principal at Bagley, taught history at Murray County High School before moving to Bagley seven years ago.
“When I was teaching social studies at the high school, I could tell if students had had Mr. Howard from their ability to write and communicate and their understanding,” Gazaway said. “He’s a hero for this community and this school. He’s a champion for this community ... It’s a well-deserving honor (from the governor), something not many people experience.”
When former students visit Bagley, the one teacher they ask to see is “T,” which is what many students call Howard.
“Mr. Howard is a fixture in this community, not just the school,” Gazaway said.
Howard has been named the system’s teacher of the year twice and Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) twice. STAR teachers are selected by STAR students in their senior year.
“How many middle school teachers are named STAR teachers? But he was, twice,” Gazaway said. “What’s apparent is he’s vested in the kids and in the school. It’s a part of who he is.”
For many years Howard has been the Junior Beta Club sponsor and has coached both the Quiz Bowl and Georgia Quiz Bowl teams.
“In Quiz Bowl, if there’s a question you should know, he’s constructive,” Cash said. “He corrects you. He gives you tips to help you. If we get first place, he takes us out to eat.”
For many years, Howard organized the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., and the eighth-grade gifted trip to Savannah and Jekyll or Tybee islands. He’s tried to pass the trips on to other people, but others have been hesitant to take them on.
“A lot of it is time,” Howard said. “I’m not married, did not have a family, so I had time to do it. I think back and among the best things about teaching were taking kids on those trips that wouldn’t have gotten to see those places otherwise.”
He believes having traditions at a school, such as having the D.C. trip to look forward to, a winning Quiz Bowl team or athletic team, is the key to building school pride. Having school pride helps keep students interested in school. To build tradition, a school needs stability with teachers and administration.
“One of the biggest reasons private schools succeed is because they set traditions that bring loyalty and stable faculty and staff that people can always come back to,” Howard said. “That’s what Bagley did. We established traditions. You can’t build a program without continuity.”