By Nate Cohen
The 2019-2020 school year will certainly be remembered. For most of the staff and students at Great Neck South, this will be due to the pandemic and the implementation of online learning. But for Mrs. Karen Harwood, a math specialist at the Study Center, this year will be remembered for another reason—as the year of her retirement. To understand the significance of this retirement, it is necessary to understand her story and the impact she has had on so many lives.
The story starts when Mrs. Harwood was just a child. Incredibly, it was at this young age when she realized she wanted to be a teacher. According to Mrs. Harwood, she never even thought of another career because as she saw it, teaching was a job that perfectly fit her personality. “I was always that motherly type,” she explained. “I wanted everyone to feel comfortable, encouraged, and to enjoy learning.” It was her love of math that ultimately led her to her first job as a math teacher in the New York City Public Schools. After teaching for 5 years, she took some time off to care for her children.
In 1997, Mrs. Harwood was offered a job as a math specialist in the Great Neck School District. For her, this was “the job of a lifetime” since it meant doing only the best parts of teaching. It was her role as a Study Center teacher that defined who she is. “It gave me the opportunity to provide small group instruction to students who needed extra support. Everyday I was providing instruction and building trust and confidence in students. It didn’t get better than that,” said Mrs. Harwood.
As a math specialist, Mrs. Harwood certainly had a unique style of teaching. For one, she always brought joy and warmth to her math instruction. As students arrived in the Study Center, they would be greeted with friendly smiles. It was a place where students would focus on serious academic work but in an extremely supportive atmosphere. “As hard as we worked, we always managed to have a good time,” noted Mrs. Harwood. Additionally, Mrs. Harwood learned to change her teaching style to meet the needs of her students. “Everyone learns differently,” she explained, “so I had to figure out the technique that worked best for each student. Some students were more outgoing and would ask a million questions, seeking out explanations and answers, while others were shy and didn’t ask for help. I had to work harder and review their assignments to see where their weaknesses were.”
No matter the challenge, Mrs. Harwood always committed herself to ensuring each student understood all the material before moving on. “Math builds on itself and the fundamental rules come up again and again,” said Mrs. Harwood, justifying her approach. Above all, Mrs. Harwood maintained the philosophy that any student, no matter their proficiency in math, can succeed.
Part of what made Mrs. Harwood’s career so special was the impact she had on her students. This impact can be seen in the many students who would rush to her classroom after receiving a successful test score or in the many gratitude letters she received from those she helped. But there is perhaps no better example of Mrs. Harwood’s impact than the time she encountered a former student in Bloomingdales. According to Mrs. Harwood, this was a student “who wasn’t strong in math and came to me [for help] for years.” And yet at that encounter, she unveiled a huge surprise to her former teacher: she was majoring in math to become a math teacher. It is these remarkable stories that prove Mrs. Harwood’s brilliance as a teacher. She didn’t just teach—she made a difference. She touched students and helped shape their lives. So, although this year marks the end of Mrs. Harwood’s teaching career, her legacy will last for years to come.
Looking back at her dream career, Mrs. Harwood takes only good memories. As she put it, “there was never a day I didn’t look forward to going to work.” For Mrs. Harwood, this stems largely from the incredible students who were always appreciative of her help but also the pleasant and warm atmosphere that was a constant at the Great Neck South Study Center. Furthermore, she feels lucky to have worked with “the most wonderful colleagues you could ask for,” such as the Study Center department head Mrs. Susan Dorkings. “Sue Dorkings, my mentor and forever friend, is an amazing leader,” said Mrs. Harwood. “There is no one more giving of her time and energy. She is a generous spirit.”
For her next chapter, Mrs. Harwood plans to move to Florida with her husband and looks forward to spending more time with family and close friends.