Editors note: On Tuesday, July 25th, our team had the privilege to conduct an interview with Melissa Garffer. The following Friday, July 28th, Melissa Garffer passed away after battling cancer. The following article outlines the many contributions that Garffer made during her tenure at NBISD.
After serving 30 years at NBISD and leaving a lasting impact on the lives of many students and faculty, Melissa Garffer retired from the district in 2023.
With a robust career at NBISD and numerous awards received during her tenure, Garffer truly exemplifies the district’s core beliefs: Passion for Growth, Power of the Team, Pride of New Braunfels.
We sat down with Garffer to learn more about her career and time with NBISD. Read the interview and hear firsthand about her experience within the school district.
What inspired you to be an educator?
I had some fabulous teachers in elementary, middle and high school. Growing up, my brother was dyslexic and because of that, I got tested and learned that I was really dyslexic. I had teachers that helped me. It’s important to know that each child learns differently.
I actually didn’t study teaching as an undergraduate. I studied English Literature and Liberal Arts, and I went on to get my masters in Special Education with a focus in Bilingual Education. I grew up in Puerto Rico and living there, speaking another language is not a disability. Being bilingual is a skill.
I also got my admin certification and learning reports and the data behind teaching, helped me get the picture of what’s going on in a kid’s head. We aren’t cookie cut. Understanding this makes it easier for the student to learn and the teacher to teach.
What brought you to New Braunfels?
I grew up in Puerto Rico, but my mom’s family lived in Texas, and it became a second home. I attended the University of Texas (UT) and began my career as a teacher specialist and dyslexia interventionist for a private school and then became a teaching and instructional assistant for UT. I was at a job fair where a personnel director for NBISD was recruiting bilingual teachers, and I joke that she took over my life.
I hadn’t heard of New Braunfels, but the job fair sparked my interest and I decided to visit. I was impressed with New Braunfels, and when I started teaching the first two years, I said I would only stay one more year. I stayed for 30!
Can you tell us a little more about your career at NBISD?
During my 30-year career, I worked at Carl Schurz for 24 years and Veramendi for the last six years. I’ve held many positions including a second grade dual language teacher, a fourth grade bilingual teacher, a gifted and talented teacher, and an instructional technology specialist.
NBISD provided me with amazing opportunities and every principal I worked under was a great leader. I was a teacher at Carl Schurz when it became the first neighborhood school. I went to the principal at the time and explained that I wanted a part time G/T teacher position, and petitioned for a second position in technology support because not everyone knew what to do with the technology on campus.
The principal listened and put it in the plan. I was the first technology specialist on campus at the elementary schools. As a dyslexic learner, it was important to look at technology and how it could be a tool. It’s not a replacement for thinking, but it can aid in learning. Technology has continued to have an important role in education and there is now fantastic training to support teachers. There was some push back at the time, but I’ve actually had teachers come and tell me many years later that my involvement helped spur on their technology implementation.
Years later, when I returned to the classroom as a dual language teacher, I really had to brush up on my Spanish. I spent that whole summer reading books to myself. Veramendi gave me the opportunity to teach at a new campus and in a regular classroom. It was a big adjustment because Carl Schurz was a close knit community and Veramendi felt big. I came to love having a big team and had such a great time on campus.
How would you describe your teaching style?
My teaching style is different from most in terms of I didn’t do education as an undergraduate; therefore, I wasn’t told the “right way” to do things. I can be stern and tough and I hold high expectations, but I also like to have fun and do as many hands-on STEM activities as possible.
I try to stay innovative. Everyone has their comfort zone and their style might be different from mine. When people walk by my room, it might look a little wonky compared to others. The more that kids are engaged, the more I’m engaged.
After we came back from covid we had to separate students. I didn’t like rows so instead, I put the desks into a big circle with space to interact in the middle. I actually never went back to group desks and clusters. Sometimes the circumstances around you make you realize that you can do things a different way.