Wayne Gorry believes his diverse background is what led him to be chosen as the Arizona Rural Schools Association Teacher of the Year from Gila County for 2011.
Gorry hasn’t always been a teacher.
He arrived in Payson in 1982 after growing up in the Phoenix area and studying to teach debate and speech to high school students.
He first taught in Chandler, but that only lasted two years.
Realizing he preferred smalltown life to city life, Gorry decided to quit his job in Chandler and take a bike tour for a few months to contemplate his next move.
Payson came to mind.
Gorry had discovered the town at the impressionable age of 10 when his neighbors took him camping on Christopher and Tonto Creeks during the summer.
“Payson became a logical place to look for work,” said Gorry.
So he packed up everything and moved to this mountain town.
But Payson didn’t make it easy — Gorry didn’t find a teaching job for eight years. Committed to staying, he worked several part-time jobs including working for the county probation office, substitute teaching, a stint in the Department of Agriculture and teaching at Gila Community College.
Then one day the Payson school district called needing a first-grade substitute teacher.
“At first I turned them down. After thinking about it, I decided to take the job. I discovered it was the best day of teaching I’d ever had,” said Gorry.
He immediately went back to school to obtain his elementary teaching certification.
It took him two years, but when he finished, he began teaching a fifth/sixth-grade combination class at Payson Elementary School.
He next moved to Frontier Elementary, teaching physical education in the morning and debate in the afternoons to high school students.
“When my wife got hired to be the principal at F.E.S., I left to work at Julia Randall Elementary,” said Gorry.
He’s taught fifth-grade there for nine years.
His students love being in his classroom, especially when he does projects such as raising trout from eggs.
“My students get to experience the life cycle of the trout. They learn the importance of clean water and they get to experience mortality when they see mutations or eggs that don’t hatch,” said Gorry.
Gorry is a humble man. Rather than take credit for the Teacher of the Year award personally, he attributes his success to his varied background.
“Part of this comes from teaching in a rural town at so many levels. In a city, it’s easy to pick one thing and do it for your whole career. I’ve always been willing to try new things,” said Gorry.
Gorry has been married to Gail for 19 years.
Their son, Cypress, is finishing up his senior year and is an internationally recognized biker.
Gorry will attend an awards banquet on Saturday morning, Sept. 24 in Flagstaff.