Mary A. Castillo
Right before the pledge of allegiance, Laguna Beach High School
teacher Jim Garvey reminded a student why he might have given him a
“If I don’t care, then I don’t say anything,” he said. “If you
work your tail off you don’t fail. There’s no excuses for it.”
Students in Garvey’s Spanish I class -- or any of his classes, for
that matter -- don’t get away with being quiet in class or just
trying to get by. Garvey encourages and sometimes pushes them to
That determination has earned Garvey the distinction of being the
Laguna Beach Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year.
“He has many outstanding qualities, but his sincere desire to
support students in learning stands out for me,” Principal Nancy
Blade said. “He takes the extra time to work with his students
before, during and after school.”
After only 10 weeks of class, he speaks almost exclusively in
Spanish, with occasional explanations in English.
When he notices the same students raising their hands to answer
questions, he picks on some of the quiet ones.
“If you have an instinct answer, go for it,” he said. “It’s not
important how fast you answer. It’s important that you get it.”
When some try to play it safe, he turns it up a notch.
He doesn’t want rote answers; he wants students to take chances
with the material and make it their own.
One young student goes for it and works her way through the past
tense conjugation of a verb. He applauds her effort.
“I told you, you have a knack for language,” he said.
Garvey teaches nearly all levels of Spanish, including an
introduction to Spanish literature, and works with Advancement Via
Individual Determination and English Language Development students.
With 13 years of experience under his belt, Garvey can remember
the ninth-grade Spanish teacher who inspired him.
“Mr. Dorf was a hard-core teacher,” he recalled. “He never backed
down and pushed me until I saw my potential.”
However, it wasn’t until his sophomore year in college that Garvey
made the commitment to a teaching career.
He knew he had found his calling when he was a 19-year-old
bilingual aide teaching an English as a second language class.
“The teacher got sick, and the sub didn’t know what he was doing,”
Garvey went on to teach the class.
Ever since, his students have responded to his nudges and
occasional pushes for them to excel.
“I’m learning a lot,” Mina Kazemian, 14, said. “If I want to be a
doctor then I need more than one language.”
As the class files out for its 10-minute morning break, Garvey
erases the board for his next group of students.
“The best students are the average students. Hard work beats out
talent nine times out of 10,” he said.