CU alum takes teaching to a higher level

Photo courtesy of Justin Garritt.
Alumni Justin Garritt stands in front of the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia.

Justin Garritt is a sixth-grade math teacher in Baltimore. He graduated from Castleton University in 2011 and was awarded the “Outstanding Young Alum” award in 2014. Garritt recently returned from a 13-month sabbatical where he traveled the country and the world visiting schools and finding every opportunity to enrich his classroom.

Q. So I heard you just spent a ton of time traveling. Is that something a lot of elementary teachers get to do?

A. Well I work for what I think is a really cool school district, but I think it gets a bad rap. We have what is called a sabbatical. This is normal for professors, but it’s not common for public school teachers. So last year I spent 13 months away from Baltimore and I visited a few hundred schools or so across the United States and across the world. I got to see some incredible, incredible teachers that were doing amazing things in some of the most challenging areas of our country that need the most support.

Q. What kinds of places did you visit?

A. I was all over the United States. I was in Seattle, I was in Kansas City, I was in Florida – bunch of schools there – and I spent a lot of time in D.C.,  a few schools in New York. I even spent some time with the school where I went to school! I got to coach with some of the teachers there.

Q. What do you learn from a trip like this?

A. I learned so much. It was a really cool year. I picked up a ton of a small teacher tools. A lot of classroom management things. When you’re a teacher, you’re really kind of stuck in your classroom and you don’t get the opportunity often to go out and see other people do cool things. So there’s just a whole laundry list of things I came back with.

Q. Like what?

A. Ideas for things to implement in my class. I have a new student of the week thing, I have a new way of teaching long division … A lot of things like that I just picked up which is great. And on top of that, I just brought a lot of cool ideas to bring into my school. Different meanings and things in the way they work with students. A lot of just little things in pieces I picked up from experts around the country. Some pretty cool stuff.

Q. I saw a blog post you made from a fishing vessel about a year ago. Was that part of the sabbatical too?

A. I applied for what’s called the Teacher at Sea program. They invite teachers to come up with some of their ships so you can bring things back to your kids.

Q. So you went out to the west coast on a ship called the Bell M. Shimada. What did you do out there?

A. Well, I got to spend two weeks on a ship outside of Seattle. I was able to go back and learn and rewrite a lot of our statistics units with the real-life stuff I was seeing. We were studying Pollock and hake in the ocean. I was able to apply all that stuff to median variation, mean median, all that stuff that I teach in my class. Now instead of being kind of a textbook unit, my class is going to be more of a real-life thing. They’ll be able to see all these pictures of their teacher with fish. It’s been a fantasy I’ll be honest.

Q. What is it about teaching that’s making you want to dedicate all this time to it?

A. So, it’s amazing; literally when you just called me, I had six young alumni who are currently in 9th grade, came rushing in and gave me the biggest hug. I start asking how things were going in high school and they said, ‘I felt really prepared for math. I feel pumped about it. I feel like my mindset is right about having a growth mindset and wanting to overcome challenges because of the things we did in class.’ At the end of the day, those things are awesome because then you know the hundreds of hours you spend doing this work and the passion you put into it has moved the needle for somebody.

Q. It’s great that you’re able to put so much time into something you’re so passionate about.

A. Yeah, and if it’s not, you don’t do it, you know? Cuz life’s too short. I think the work we do has to be meaningful to society or else why are we doing anything? If I’m selling Windows or I’m selling cars, there’s nothing wrong with those jobs, it’s just not for me. Other people can do that, they are passionate about that, but that’s not going to excite me. What excites me is the vision of the work that I’m going to do in life. It’s something that’s going to move the needle for people and help people and plant the seed because that’s what it’s about.

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