Joseph Jarrell retires after 27 years in same MHS classroom

McIntosh High Principal Lisa Fine (right) gives retiring history teacher jokingly gives Joseph Jarrell a “Top Banana” award in his classroom last week. During his 27 years in the same MHS classroom, Jarrell has given many Top Banana awards to students for their top efforts in his class. He has been an educator for a total of 36 years. Also pictured is Assistant Principal Stacey Smith. (Staff Photo by Danny Harrison)
McIntosh High Principal Lisa Fine (right) gives retiring history teacher jokingly gives Joseph Jarrell a “Top Banana” award in his classroom last week. During his 27 years in the same MHS classroom, Jarrell has given many Top Banana awards to students for their top efforts in his class. He has been an educator for a total of 36 years. Also pictured is Assistant Principal Stacey Smith. (Staff Photo by Danny Harrison)

When the final bell rings at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City on Friday afternoon, it will signal the end of the day, the end of the school year and the end of a 27-year era for Room 219 on the Social Studies Wing.

It was 27 years ago that history teacher Joseph Jarrell first unpacked his satchel in Room 219. He had taught previously at two Christian schools, and in 1988 he began the 10th year of his career as a new hire at McIntosh.

Jarrell never strayed from teaching history, and, since 1988, he never strayed from Room 219.

Jarrell says he has taught approximately 4,500 students over the whole of his career, and he has worked with 12 different principals, seven at McIntosh alone. He says he has even in recent years taught the children of former students, who also attended his classes in Room 219.

One of those former students, Doyle Raffensberger, was an eighth-grader in Jarrell’s history class at Southside Christian School in Greenville, South Carolina back in 1980-81. He says he enjoyed Jarrell’s class so much, he kept his notes from that class.

Years later, Raffensberger joined Southwest Airlines, where he is now a captain, and relocated to Peachtree City. When he enrolled his son at McIntosh, he learned much to his surprise that his son would be taught by none other than Jarrell.

“Mr. Jarrell has a commanding presence in the classroom and immediately puts the fear of God in his students,” Raffensberger remembers. “He does not waste a minute of class time and drives home the material through note taking and repetition.

“I was pleased that my son was able to take World History from Mr. Jarrell,” Raffensberger continued. “My son enjoyed his class last year and had the privilege to become his teacher’s aide this year.”

“He is iconic,” McIntosh Assistant Principal Stacey Smith says of Jarrell. “Students are typically nervous at first about being in his class. But he gets a lot of good e-mails from parents at the end of the school year about his class.”

“Mr. Jarrell leaves a legacy at McIntosh,” said Principal Lisa Fine, who is in her 11th year at McIntosh. “He is respected by everyone. He is the epitome of professionalism and excellence.”

Smith and Fine laughingly suggest that, when Jarrell retires at the end of this school year, the school should retire Room 219, just as schools often retire jersey numbers of athletes who go on to achieve great professional success.

If they did retire the room, that might take some pressure off Jarrell, who says he has accumulated so much stuff over the years that it will take more than next week’s four teacher work days to get it cleared out. Much of his collection has meaning not readily evident to students and visitors.

“Cleaning out my room is not going to be fun,” Jarrell said. “It’s going to be emotional. It’s going to be a little bit difficult packing up everything and walking out of 219.”

Jeff Emanuel, a CHS Fellow in Aegean Archaeology and Prehistory at the Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies, is a 1998 McIntosh graduate and a former student of Jarrell’s. He says Jarrell’s 10th-grade World History class was “the principal influence” on his academic career.

“Prior to that, I’d viewed history as remote and inanimate,” Emanuel recalls. “Following that year, I had a passion for the past that has formed the basis of my own career.”

Emanuel not only remembers Jarrell’s high academic standards but his attention to other details as well.

“The first thing he ever said to me was, ‘Have a seat right there, Mr. Emanuel, and don’t ever be late to my class again,'” Emanuel said. “You’d better believe that I never was.

“However, the combination of that structure and Mr. Jarrell’s enthusiastic and highly demanding teaching style was like magic for me: Not only did I strive for perfect performance in his class, but I’ve been driven ever since to take advantage of every opportunity to dig into the past.”

Indeed, Emanuel is now an archaeologist.

John McDuffie, who chaired the McIntosh High School Social Studies Department from the founding of the school in 1981 until he retired in 2008, calls Jarrell “demanding, but fair.”

McDuffie says Jarrell’s students commented that they could not help but learn history in Mr. Jarrell’s class, because, “He forces it into your brain.”

“[Mr. Jarrell] had high expectations of his students and himself,” McDuffie said. “He started class with the bell and ended class with the bell. Mr. Jarrell had every minute of every day, every week and every year planned.

“It was a major emergency if [Mr. Jarrell] ever missed school,” McDuffie continued. “For his lesson plans on the rare occasion he missed, well, only Mr. Jarrell would videotape himself teaching the lesson and bring it in for the substitute.”

Last year, when students were out of school several days due to severe winter weather warnings, Jarrell reportedly made Youtube videos of himself teaching history lessons for his students to watch so as not to fall behind in the coursework.

Jarrell says it was good history teachers and other educators in his past that influenced him to become an educator himself. During his senior year at LaGrange High School, where he graduated in 1974, he knew he wanted to teach history.

“I was privileged to have some really good teachers,” Jarrell said.

When Jarrell steps down from his role as history teacher at McIntosh, he will also be stepping down as president of the Fayette County chapter of Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), a role in which he represented approximately 1,300 of Fayette County’s school system employees. As such, Jarrell was also a fixture at Fayette County Board of Education meetings.

Not yet 60, Jarrell says he plans to continue working, though he says he is not yet ready to declare what he will be doing next other than traveling and continuing to study history.

Jarrell says he has already been on 20 foreign trips in his life, of which his daughter Joanna has accompanied him and his wife Michelle on 14. One of the bulletin boards that must now be lovingly dismantled in Room 219 is dedicated to his daughter’s travels.

Jarrell says he e-mailed his teachers and students a few weeks ago, telling them of his imminent retirement. Within that e-mail, he says he shared two life lessons. The first was to find a career within which they can be passionate.

“I’ve been very blessed to have done that for 36 years,” Jarrell said.

And the second?

“Finish the job, and finish it well,” Jarrell said. “That’s my intent for the last two weeks of school.”

Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.