By Casey Hans
Gary Graff’s 34 years in The Ann Arbor Public Schools can be focused in one place: Scarlett Middle School where he has worked since it opened.
Graff was first offered a temporary job and after a few weeks, he came aboard fulltime. “I decided this was the place for me,” said Graff, 57, talking recently between first and third hours in his Technology Education classroom. “We are one, big family. It’s just kind of a natural fit.”
He estimates he has had about 15,000 children attend his classes at Scarlett over his years teaching. He points to a handsaw. “I tell the students, every (student) hand has touched that,” he said.
In his early years as a teacher, he taught traditional industrial arts. A program that once encouraged only teenage boys to take what was called “shop” today encourages students with an interest in computer-aided design or engineering to sign up. Graff said his classes are pretty evenly divided between boys and girls today.
“It’s a balance between the old and the new,” he explained.
He takes the science curriculum and matches his classes to it: Sixth-graders focus on earth sciences, seventh-graders on life sciences and eighth-graders on physical sciences.
And the kids seem to embrace it. An extra-curricular Engineering Club recently attracted 27 students to sign up for the after-school session in one recent week.
Ellen Daniel, a teacher at Scarlett and former Ann Arbor school board member, said her children have enjoyed Graff’s classes over the years. “He does so many things so well that it is difficult to know where to begin,” she said. “An hour spent with Gary is observation of a Master Teacher at work.”
Daniel noted that he is “thoughtful and reflective” and is always looking for ways to improve in the classroom. “I know that I am a better teacher for having his example and support,” she added, noting that Graff was selected as the Scarlett Teacher of the Year last year.
Graff has a definite passion for his profession. “I wanted to be in the classroom. It’s my chosen work – I love what I do,” he said. And, he credits his chosen teaching area to a great drafting instructor in high school who “taught me it was more than bending metal and busting boards,” he said.
He shares his love of education with his wife of 35 years, Sandi, who is a second-grade teacher in Manchester. The two grew up in Saline where they knew each other as youngsters and became high school sweethearts before marrying and raising two sons. In their early years, the family lived in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti before building a home and settling in Chelsea.
During his years at Scarlett, Graff has been an assistant wrestling and softball coach and also coordinated the school yearbook for a time. He still attends school sporting functions to support the Scarlett kids.
Graff said today’s students are better behaved than many in year’s past. “The school district gets the credit,” he said. “Things like the anti-bullying program; they have kids come together and work in teams. The behavior has been much improved.”
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 734-994-2090 ext. 51228.
Occupation: Technology education teacher at Scarlett Middle School where he has worked for 34 years. He also taught for 25 years as an adjunct professor at Eastern Michigan University.
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial education from Eastern Michigan University.
Family: Married to high school sweetheart Sandi for 35 years. They have two sons: Dan, who works in finance at Ford Motor Company and Dave, who is in real estate.
Pets: A cat Neemy, who lives with them and fond memories of longtime Labrador retriever companion, Sunny, who has passed away.
Hobbies: Likes hands-on projects around the house, loves to camp, enjoys coaching and baseball and is a Civil War buff who has visited most every major battlefield except Chattanooga. He also enjoys travel and scuba diving and “I like to think of myself as a bit of a fisherman,” he said.
Community service: Active at the First United Methodist Church in Chelsea and stays involved with student programs and activities at Scarlett Middle School.
Favorite meal: “Anything seafood.”
Last book read: “I’ve read most of James Michener’s books. I’m definitely into historical fiction. I just finished Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln” and I feel like I really met the 16th president.”
Life philosophy: “I tend to think of the old ‘do unto others as you would have others do to you.’ It’s a karma thing. You hope it comes back to you.”