Some high school classrooms feel lifeless and dreary, but not Tara Stuart’s classroom. Her’s is decked with pride flags, lights, and colorful decorations. The welcoming atmosphere of her room mirrors her compassionate teaching style.
“I think that is what makes me an important person in kids’ lives is that they know when they walk in the door that I love them, I care about them and I want to get to know them better,” Stuart said.
Originally from Mariana, Florida, Stuart attended the University of West Florida before transferring to the University of Georgia her senior year. After graduating with an English degree, she began working for UGA, coordinating research on drug and alcohol abuse treatment. After 10 years she decided to shift careers.
“I felt like I wasn’t really making any kind of difference in the world. I know that sounds kind of cheesy and idealistic, but I wanted to do something that felt more fulfilling. I decided on becoming a teacher, so I went to school and got my master’s degree,” said Stuart.
Stuart is in her 10th year of teaching English. She previously taught at Clarke Central and Winder-Barrow High School. Having spent the majority of her teaching career in Barrow County, she’s excited to be back in Athens.
“I love being back in my community and I live in Athens. Even when I was teaching in Winder I lived just around the corner from Cedar Shoals. Being able to come back and teach the kids that are actually part of my community has been really cool,” Stuart said.
This year Stuart is teaching World Literature in the current semester and American Literature next semester. As a teacher, Stuart values personal connections with her students.
“For me the most important thing is building relationships with kids. I know that we’re supposed to be teaching them literature and teaching with rigor and standards and all that stuff. I’m not saying I don’t do that, but I think that my priority is always building relationships and making kids feel loved and safe,” Stuart said. “Then once you do that you hope you can get them to care about the literature, but the most important thing for me is really the relationships.”
During her own high school years, she hated being in school and found it stifling.
“I think that I have a different perspective. A lot of teachers were good students and loved school. So it’s, I think, harder for them to relate to and connect with some of the more unmotivated, apathetic students. I was that kid. I have a whole lot of love and empathy for the kids who are not really wanting to be here,” Stuart said.
Excited to have students back, Stuart is looking forward to getting to know Cedar students better.
“I’m so glad that kids are back in a building. I think it’s so important for them to be able to have real human connections. That whole virtual thing didn’t work for so many of our kids,” Stuart said.