Teacher enjoys 'enlightening' students
"Light bulbs" are a source of encouragement for Paul Knox Middle School science teacher Yashonda Gardner, now in her 12th year as an educator.Referring to her students, she said, "I just enjoy enlightening them, and just having their little light bulbs go on. That's what keeps me going, whereas with adults, maybe not so much."The North Augusta native teaches four seventh-grade classes and one at the eighth-grade level."As a child, everyone always said that I was really patient and I was really good with children, and so I guess that kind of grew on me. Of course, I would play school with my little stuffed animals in my room, and I was the teacher with my little chalkboard."Rhonda Kropp, a sixth-grade teacher at Paul Knox, noted that Gardner "always does more than her part."Kropp added, "Since she's been here, she's always gone the extra mile to help and do her share, even when her plate was full."Classroom duty "just seemed to be a good fit," Gardner said. "I think that children are great. They keep you young. They keep you motivated, and the fact that there's so much that they can absorb. They're like little sponges."The teacher, who came up by way of North Augusta Elementary, North Augusta Middle and North Augusta High, originally pondered a career in veterinary medicine.Life got "kind of crazy" and that dream didn't materialize, but her household that she shares with her son, Darius, 13, is still critter-friendly."I actually have two cockatiels right now," she said, referring to Pretty Girl and Birdie Mack, which were named by some of Gardner's students."I got them my second year of teaching, and ... they actually used to stay at the school, which was pretty cool," she said recalling that her pupils would teach the birds tricks, such as whistling when someone entered the room, or releasing a ball on request.Her childhood included iguanas, dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and a ferret.She now lives in Graniteville and travels to school with Darius, who is a seventh-grader at Paul Knox.At first, she was antsy about having a son at the same school where she works. "I was concerned about how the kids would relate to him ... and me - the whole friend-teacher, 'Oh, your mom's a teacher' kind of thing - but it's really been awesome. I enjoy it."She also commented that life in Graniteville, which was rocked first by the decline of America's textile industry and again by a train wreck in 2005, "is starting to come back alive again," she said."We have ... two gas stations now, and we have a Gary's now. We have a super subdivision, Sage Creek. It's growing by leaps and bounds."Back in North Augusta, she's an active member of First Providence Baptist Church, and her spare-time pursuits include reading and exercise."I love to draw. I'm not that great at drawing, and ... I just started my new exercise kick."She grinned and pointed out that a recent classroom lesson was focused on the human body. "I was showing my kids biceps and triceps, so I decided I'd better beef it up."Gardner said she also finds her thoughts turning upward on occasion. "I'm fascinated with clouds. Clouds are just mesmerizing to me, so I like to be outside, looking at the clouds, feeling the wind."As for life in the classroom, she said expectations of student performance have become higher in recent years."For instance, things that the kids are learning now in seventh grade, they might have learned in eighth grade, from my recollection. It seems like the kids are being accelerated more and more."She speaks from experience, including a bachelor's degree in elementary education from USC and a master's degree from Southern Wesleyan University in the same field.Gardner's admirers include Scotty Carpenter, a special-needs aide for Darius, who has cerebral palsy. "She's a single mom with a special-needs child, but she always puts the needs of others before herself, and I can attest to that because I've been with her for seven years, working with her son," he said.He described her as "probably one of the most humble and down-to-earth persons I've ever met."On top of all that, "her favorite TV show is 'Little House on the Prairie,'" he said.Gardner said a great part of the job is in connecting with students - "just knowing they've got it, and just seeing that they're excited about learning new things."The most challenging aspect involves "wearing all the different hats, because as a teacher, you're not just a teacher," she said."You're also a motivator. You're also, in part, a guidance counselor. I mean, to a certain degree, they may talk to you as their mom, or needing some advice or assistance."