Printed on: June 15, 2013

Hanging up his lab coat

Chemistry teacher Garry Brown bids Skyline High School adieu after 41 years

By NATE SUNDERLAND
nsunderland@postregister.com

After touching the lives of thousands of students, veteran educator Garry Brown has donned his white lab coat for the last time.

The 70-year-old educator retired from Idaho Falls School District 91 this month after 41 years of teaching advanced-placement chemistry at Skyline High School. His teaching career spanned 47 years.

Brown credits his longevity to the energy provided by his many students, who helped him maintain an upbeat attitude over the years.

"Being in chemistry was key because I always had such good enthusiastic students," he said. "You aren't fighting with discipline and students are excited ... that feeling is infectious and kept me ... excited about teaching."

Likewise, some of Brown's former students said the chemistry teacher had a similar effect on their lives.

District 91 Superintendent George Boland was among those students. Decades later, Boland worked with Brown as principal at Skyline High School and later as district superintendent.

"I saw the same things as an administrator that I experienced as a student," Boland said. "He was always well prepared and there was never a question about what we were learning ... Garry has a passion for teaching ... and he knows his chemistry."

Thanks to Brown, Boland said he had a "leg up" in college chemistry classes.

Gary Simpson, a 1970 Skyline graduate and Idaho National Laboratory retiree, recently sent Brown an email thanking the teacher for helping him find a career path.

"You and your chemistry class played an important role in my life. It was your chemistry class ... that influenced me to become a chemical engineer," Simpson said in the email.

But the longtime educator -- he started teaching in 1965 -- said he's faced some challenges during his career. Some of the changes to education in recent years left

him disheartened.

"When I started teaching, we always had hope, but since sales taxes came in things have been bled away," Brown said. "There are so many other priorities for funding that education doesn't fit high into decision-maker's minds."

His advice to incoming teachers is to cultivate hope.

"You have to hope things are going to get better," Brown said. "You have to feel you're getting ahead ... otherwise (negative) feelings percolate into the classroom and you burn out."

In addition to his Skyline tenure, Brown spent six years teaching high school chemistry in Japan during the mid-2000s. He also has held numerous side jobs, including a three-year stint researching nitroaromatics and chemical paint stripping at INL.

Brown also worked in gopher control and built cabins in Island Park.

Today, Brown remains involved in i-STEM, an INL-led professional development program that trains teachers in mathematics, science, engineering and technology.

Looking back, Brown said the most rewarding part of his career was the freedom it gave him to raise his four boys.

"Being an educator allowed me to be home when they were at home," he said. "I was able to coach their basketball and baseball, do Scouts and go on 50-miler (hikes) with my boys ... that's been a big advantage."