"Jeff McGuire is one of the kindest, most generous people I know," says Kerri Sholl, principal of Graysville Elementary School where McGuire teaches PE. "He loves the kids and knows every one of them by name. He’s always looking for ways to make his classes richer and more engaging."
This servant’s-heart approach to his job won McGuire "Teacher of the Year" at Graysville this year, the second time in his career he’s earned such a distinction.
Back in the day, when McGuire was still a child, he was sitting outside his Indiana home enjoying a comic book when a salesman approached. "You look like a boy who likes to read," the man said. McGuire’s mother sprung for a set of encyclopedias the fellow was selling.
"My mother was always studying," says McGuire. "and she encouraged my brother and me to learn."
McGuire embraced his mother’s encouragement and example and developed a passion for teaching. He’s taught math, history and other subjects, and his PE classes are peppered with math and geography lessons.
McGuire also has a special place in his heart for kids who struggle or come from difficult circumstances. "I’ve faced some hard things in my life, so I feel I can relate," he says. During the course of his career, he’s worked at Boynton Elementary with a program to boost kids’ self-esteem and help keep them in school, at Ringgold Middle School teaching special ed, supervising group homes for the mentally challenged at Open Arms Care, and helping at-risk teens prepare for success at Crossroads Academy in Fort Oglethorpe.
"My father was an alcoholic," says McGuire. "He left our family when my brother and I were young. He’d promise to come pick us up for visits then not show, and he didn’t help financially. My mother qualified for government assistance, but she wouldn’t take it. Instead, she educated herself and eventually became the county assessor. I learned my work ethic from my mother."
When he graduated from high school, McGuire spent a summer laboring in a woodworking shop. "There was no AC. They would come around and hand out sweatbands to the workers," he says. "It was honest work but I didn’t want to be there forever."
A trip to visit an uncle attending Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga opened a new door for McGuire; he decided to enroll at the same school. "I worked my way through college and paid for my education myself," he says. "I’m as proud of that as I am my degree. I worked full time as a custodian at Ringgold Junior High, I cleaned a spa two nights a week, cleaned houses and worked as a nighttime security guard at Eastgate Mall on weekends. It wasn’t easy but God was with me every step of the way."
Faith plays a central role in McGuire’s life. "I believe Romans 8:28 that says all things work together for the good for those who love God. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it will work out that way, but then God brings good out it."
When he was 30 years old, McGuire faced the most frightening challenge of his life. He was house-sitting for a friend and wasn’t feeling well. "I thought I had the flu," he says. Worried, some other friends stopped by to check on him one evening and found him in a bad way. They took him to an urgent care clinic, where blood was drawn and he was sent him home.
A few days later, his friends found him nearly comatose. "They took me to Erlanger and a nurse recognized immediately that I was in diabetic shock." McGuire had had no previous signs of the Type I diabetes he was diagnosed with. He was sent to the intensive care unit.
In the meantime, the first doctor he’d gone to got back test results and was alarmed to see his patient’s blood sugar had clocked in at a shocking 969. He contacted the sheriff’s department, concerned that McGuire might be dead, and was relieved to find him in the hospital.
"Thanks to friends who cared and checked on me, I’m alive," says McGuire. "This is one more situation in my life where I’ve seen how God has been with me."
One of the most rewarding things McGuire has experienced has been his role in the life of his grandson, son of one of his step-daughters. "Due to various circumstances, Dylan came to live with me as a young boy after my marriage fell apart. I learned a lot about God as my father by being a father to Dylan."
"Dylan and I took a trip to Colorado once. On the way home, I stopped to get gas and my credit card wouldn’t go through." McGuire asked the station owner if he’d like to buy his radar detector but the man wasn’t interested. "I had $10 on me. I bought a biscuit for Dylan and a drink to share and put $8 worth of gas in the truck." The credit card was rejected at the next station, too.
A little farther along, McGuire turned off at a remote exit and found a small country gas station. He and 10-year-old Dylan sat on the tailgate of his truck and prayed. Within minutes, a man drove up carting two kayaks and asked McGuire for help with them and paid him $10. McGuire went inside to pay for some gas and another man approached him and asked if he might have a radar detector for sale. "He gave me $20 and I was able to buy enough gas and food to finish the trip. And Dylan got to experience God answering our prayer."
While McGuire has taught many subjects over the years he says there are a few things that are most important. "Reading gives you a foot up in life. It’s important to know there are consequences for every action – you choose whether you’ll work for good or bad consequences. Set targets so you have something to aim for and hit. And don’t let anyone destroy your dreams. No matter what I’m teaching kids, I try to help them understand these things, too.
"The greatest reward for me," says McGuire, "is when kids come back after they’re grown and are happy to see me. Dylan is married now and in the military, but we stay in touch and he’ll still give me a hug when we see each other. I work at Lowe’s two evenings a week and have kids I’ve taught see me and come running up all excited. To be that kind of positive influence in a child’s life is a real blessing."
"Rock Solid" reads the heading on the bulletin board honoring McGuire at Graysville Elementary. It’s a reputation earned by always being there for the kids he loves.