VALDOSTA -- John Travis Howeth, Ph.D., chemistry and physics teacher at Lowndes High School, didn't expect to hear that he had been selected as one of the dozen semifinalists for Georgia's 2003 Teacher of the Year.
"Being selected Teacher of the Year this school year for the county school system was surprising enough," Howeth said. "This is simply amazing."
Of course, those who work with Howeth are not at all surprised.
Ann Rodgers, Lowndes High School principal, said Howeth "truly exemplifies the essence of a quality teacher. His patience and understanding are remarkable. As I observe, I am amazed at his ability to help students reach that 'aha' moment when confusion turns to comprehension. He is a quiet man with a huge heart and a love of children. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and Lowndes High is blessed to have him."
Carmen J. Ruddle, Lowndes High School Spanish teacher, agrees.
"I have heard students comment at the end of a long day that they cannot wait to get to Dr. Howeth's class," Ruddle said. "He makes learning fun for the students. His labs are especially fun. When teaching about how heat changes the chemical nature of things, Dr. Howeth's lab included roasting hot dogs."
Ruddle said Howeth believes that teaching is fun, teaching is a learned art, and teaching is loving children.
"He says that 'one must look at the child in light of what that child will become as an adult, not what he/she is at the present time,'" she added.
Tracy Pearson is one of the lucky Lowndes High students who studied under Howeth.
"(He) shows (us) that science is more than just formulas and atoms. He shows how science can be used in real life."
And it's the children who keep Howeth coming back into the classroom year after year.
"You have to want to give to the children and help them to be a good teacher," Howeth said. "I'm lucky. Many people serve in careers for 25-plus years and never are privileged to directly see the results of their years of service. I still remember. I can reminisce and remember the student who became a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. I can remember the student who now heads Bell South Mobility in Atlanta and the student who heads an international sales corporation based in San Francisco. I can also remember those who ... just wanted to be parents ... "
Howeth said one of the many benefits of teaching is being able to see his students succeed in life and marvel at the role he played in making that happen.
"To be a positive influence on another's life is the most amazing feeling that a teacher can have," Howeth said. "For me, this influence represents my greatest contribution and accomplishment in education."
A science teacher since 1975, Howeth began his teaching career at Oglethorpe County Middle School before coming to Lowndes County in 1997. He has no plans to leave anytime soon.
"I am teaching at the best school," he said. "I have the best students."
Those who know Howeth well are surprised when they learn that teaching was not always his profession of choice. Howeth's first career decision was to attend the University of Georgia and seek a bachelor's degree in forestry, just as his great-grandfather had done.
However, two things happened that caused Howeth to reevaluate his decision -- he married and he started volunteering at a local church. It was just a matter of time before Howeth decided to combine his newfound love of children with his passion for scientific study.
Ultimately, Howeth was forced to put his dream on hold. He completed his forestry degree at UGA and accepted a position as vice president in his father's retail supply firm in Maryland.
Four years later, Howeth went back to UGA to complete the requirements for science education certification.
Enthusiastic about teaching, Howeth said, "The classroom can be a totally exciting place where students are never quite sure what is going to happen next. I am always working to keep my students on their toes."
Between now and March 20, all semifinalists will be reviewed by
a panel of educators, including a visit to the teacher's school. The names of the five finalists will be announced during the first week of April.
Georgia's Teacher of the Year for 2003 will be announced on April 26.
Howeth said, "I could not fathom being in the top 12. I won't know what to think if selected for the top five or even ... the one."
To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.