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Adios, senor: Long-time teacher enters final year

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, August 18, 2018
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Leaving a Legacy

LEAVING A LEGACY – Decatur Spanish teacher Terry ‘Senor’ Stewart stands outside his classroom as students rush to class. Stewart will retire to spend more time with his family at the end of the school year.

A stream of students swerve past Terry Stewart, El Jefe of the Spanish department, as he looks out from his lavishly decorated classroom at Decatur High School.

It’s the first day of school, and Senor Stewart, as he’s most commonly known, is dressed in excellence.

His suit is firmly pressed. His cuff links and earring dazzle. His eyes and smile greet every student that takes the time to look up from their phones.

“Sup senor,” said a student.

“Good morning,” Stewart replied with a nod, letting the first period rush wash over him.

Soon, the first bell rang and the hallway chaos settled behind closed doors.

The first last day of Senor Stewart’s teaching career, the 35th year spent teaching Spanish to 14-18 year-olds had begun.

Last First Day

LAST FIRST DAY – Decatur Spanish teacher Terry ‘Senor’ Stewart teaches at Decatur High School. After 35 years of teaching, and 20 years spent at Decatur High School, Stewart plans to retire. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

His last first day didn’t feel much different than the 34 first days that preceded it, Stewart said.

“It’s wonderful, but I’m nervous, I can’t help it,” Stewart said. “I’m never satisfied. I always feel like I can do better. But I told the kids, ‘this is a real dangerous position for them to be in – no renewal of contract here. I can do what I want.'”

Jokes aside, all Stewart wants is to connect with his students and enrich their lives.

A staple of Stewart’s career has been teaching more than what lies in the textbook. He teaches language and culture – concepts that are inextricably connected.

“If you only teach what’s in the book, you’re not doing your job,” Stewart said. “I teach verbs and adverbs, but I teach culture, too. You have to give them a little ice cream to go with their lesson plan.”

He’s been incorporating the colorful cultures that speak Spanish into his classroom for years. He’s led the charge to take students outside of the classroom as well. Every two years, he takes students to Spain and Morocco to get a true grasp of Spanish, where it’s spoken.

It’s the way he was taught in his first year at Arlington from Doctora Rodriguez, head of the Spanish Department.

But before he began teaching, Stewart was a banker. He said the desk job, “ate away at his soul.”

The job he got after he graduated paid well, but left him empty.

Soon, Stewart was called to use the years of Spanish college classes.

When Stewart entered the classroom he found his niche. The pay wasn’t great, but the people were.

“Teaching is not a career, it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “I fell in love with it.”

Doctora Rodriguez showed him the ropes. Stewart still has a framed picture of the doctora in his classroom to this day. He said his lesson plans have her fingerprints all over them.

“She taught me everything,” he said.

After 15 years of teaching under Doctora, Melinda Reeves, one of Stewart’s administrators at Arlington, left to take a job at Decatur. Reeves wanted to start an advanced Spanish program and Stewart was the first name on her recruiting list.

“I told her absolutely not,” Stewart said. “I’m a city boy.”

But Stewart kept listening and after meeting with Reeves at a coffee shop in downtown Decatur, he found a community to call home. It’s an odd, but welcome fit.

Stewart built the Advanced Spanish Department from the ground up 20 years ago. His classroom, outside of the pictures of Latin art and culture, is covered in the awards garnered by his department.

It was recognized for its excellence by Congresswoman Kay Granger in 2008.

“That means a lot,” Stewart said. “I have my degree up there too. I was told a long time ago to showcase your success in the classroom. Lead by example and show what students can achieve if they work.”

In addition to teaching the language, Stewart founded and teaches the Flamenco dance program, which has also had its fair share of success.

“What was really cool is seeing students of all kinds join,” he said. “We had kids with mullets, football players, girls and artsy kids all dancing together. They would have never crossed paths, but they became friends through Flamenco.”

Now, retirement awaits.

Stewart said he’s not leaving teaching because he’s tired of the job. It’s his passion. Watching his mother pass away after a battle with Alzheimer’s, changed his priorities.

“Teaching isn’t a 9-5 job,” he said. “I’ve put my heart and soul into teaching kids for 35 years. I need to put some of that energy back into my family.”

While he’s leaving the program he built, Stewart said Decatur’s Spanish department is in good hands.

“I think our teachers are great,” he said. “Doctora left a legeacy. I think I have, too.”

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