The background information that outlines the reasons why Tina Harguess won the Arizona Charter Schools Association Teacher of the Year award credits her for setting high standards, maintaining a similar standard of expectations and for collaborating with the rest of the staff. The thing is, Harguess doesn’t believe any of the educational activities she engages in are any different than what any other teacher currently accomplishes.
A fourth- and fifth-grade combo teacher at Self Development Charter School in Mesa, Harguess received the state charter school advocacy group’s award for being the top charter teacher in Arizona. She was one of three finalists for the award — one of the other finalists, John Hanson, is another East Valley educator at BASIS in Chandler.
“I was honored to receive the award … I love what I do, and it just shows what we’re doing as a school is working,” she said.
The back half of the quote is more indicative of her reaction to winning it than the front half, as she hands out heaping doses of credit to Self Development where she has taught for a decade. That time span correlates perfectly with how long she has worked as a professional teacher; the Wilcox native started teaching there after graduating from Northern Arizona University.
Harguess said she’s learned a lot over the course of 10 years from her peers, which she said has affected her performance inside the classroom. She’s not a stationary teacher, one that lingers around the front of the board lecturing to students. Rather, she circles around the room and spends a few seconds during each rotation around the desks helping her students and keeping them on track during the lesson. She has a habit of sidling alongside a student who is surprised by her presence, but the end result is an efficient use of limited classroom time.
“If the class doesn’t get it, I wasted 30 minutes of our time,” she said.
Class time is vital given the school’s accelerated curriculum, which offers students a sizable challenge on a day-to-day basis. Several members of Harguess’ class face an even greater challenge than their cohorts — the fourth-grade students in her combo class are learning at a sixth-grade level in every subject except science.
But the challenge is one part of the job she loves, and it’s reflected by the fact that her two children are in grades three and four in Self Development.
Another highlight for her is the opportunity to watch the students grow in her classroom and beyond. Harguess has done so first hand, as the first batch of students she taught as a first-grade teacher have matriculated up to the high-school level, and some of them visit her from time to time.
“At other jobs, you can have an effect, but it’s an immediate effect; as a teacher, it’s a lifelong effect,” she said.
Harguess credits the school for a lot of her success, but she does deserve credit for the devotion she exhibits on a daily basis, most notably with the 106-mile round-trip commute she takes daily from her home in Maricopa. It’s not a recent phenomenon either; she’s taken the same trek from Pinal County to northeast Mesa and back since she started at Self Development.
Since winning the award, Harguess has received a fair bit of praise from Self Development, largely in the form of a banner with her name and the recognition written on it that hangs in her classroom. The praise, both verbally and in print, however, hasn’t changed her approach — all the applause has done is reflect that the approach she takes in the classroom is beneficial for her students.
“I don’t think I do anything anyone shouldn’t be doing,” she said.
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