It’s been said in sports that the best way to go out is to go out a winner. Former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway won Super Bowls in his final two seasons and retired from the game as one of the greatest to ever play.

Many other athletes have been able to do the same. 

Cooper High School photography teacher Sherry Griffith didn’t win the Super Bowl. Still, one month before retiring after a 27-year teaching career in the Abilene ISD, she was announced at the Abilene Education Foundation’s Teacher in the Limelight Celebration as the Edwin and Agnes Jennings Teaching Excellence Secondary Teacher of the Year for the 2022-23 school year.

It put the cap on a career that has seen her spend two years at Clack Middle School and the final 25 at Cooper. Griffith was at the dinner on April 26 with Cooper art teacher Melody Carter, who nominated her colleague for the award, when she heard her name called.

“I had invited Melody to go to the banquet with me because she was nominated for the award in 2020 but didn’t get to go to a banquet because of COVID,” Griffith said. “We were sitting there flipping through the program, and I kept looking at all these great teachers thinking they would be great people to win the award, and all of a sudden, I heard my name. 

“I was shocked. Surprised. Honored. All of those things,” she said. “I had to look at the screen to make sure it was my picture before I would get up. It was the single strangest moment of my career.”

Griffith has been at Cooper in the same room save for six months when it was being painted and outfitted with new ceiling tiles – long enough to see photography advance from black and white film cameras to digital and cell phone cameras. From one computer in the class and bubble sheets to take class attendance to a room full of computers and digital cameras, Griffith has seen and taught it all when it comes to the evolution of the art of photography.

“We didn’t have a lot of the things 25 years ago that we have now, but it was still a lot of fun,” she said. “It was challenging and hands-on with the dark room and processing our film, but we still enjoyed it. In the digital age, we now have a room full of computers and Photoshop, and you get instant feedback from the digital camera or cell phone camera. I’m still doing a lot of teaching, but I’m using all our available resources, like video tutorials.”

Griffith took some photography classes, won a contest as a student at Cy-Fair High School, and took another photography class as an Environmental Design (pre-architecture) major at Texas A&M University. After graduating, she realized architecture wasn’t her future, and she enrolled at Sam Houston State University and earned her master’s degree in photography.

It’s been her life’s passion ever since. And now she’s prepping to walk away from the classroom, albeit with the highest honor of her career.

“If I think about it (retirement) too much or think about those kids, I think maybe I’ll just take it back,” said an emotional Griffith. “The kids kept me here for 25 years. They’re amazing human beings and are capable of so much. I get them for 45 minutes a day for nine months, which is a minuscule amount of time in their lives. But sometimes, I get to peek inside and see what they do with their families, churches, jobs, interests, and how they live. Sharing that has been such a blessing, and it’s been great to watch them.”