SPARTA, NJ - Sparta High School teacher Gerald Carter is more than just a teacher. Just ask students.  The popular teacher and coach was recently nominated for New Jersey Governor's Educator of the Year Award.

Before entering into the field of education Carter was in the United States Army from 1975 to 1978.  After his service ended he became as a Bloomfield police dispatcher. He went on to work for ten years with AT&T and Prudential.

He entered the classroom as a special education teacher in 1993 at a private school for students who had been expelled from other school districts. He stayed at that private school until joining the faculty of Sparta High School in 1998, where he continues on the faculty teaching students with special needs.

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Carter credits his younger brother for influencing him to delve into a career in education.

During his time at Sparta High School Carter has interacted with countless students in the classroom and as a golf and bowling coach. Carter recalls a student who was on the bowling team with him. While he was a hard worker, the boy struggled at times. Recently Carter saw the former student at the local library, now 30 years old. The man is now working towards getting a degree.

"A lot of the things you want, you don't get immediately," Carter said after his conversation with the former student.

When asked to tell a unique story about a student Carter interjected, "I can tell you why my beard is long right now.”

“Years ago,” Carter said, “a student asked him, ‘Mr. Carter, what happens when your beard grows out?’”

From there, it started a new tradition: he began to grow out his beard in November to dress up as Santa in December - but then, since it's cold, he kept it for a little longer until the winter months pass by. He partners up with St. Baldrick's, a nonprofit organization to raise funds for children battling cancer. In just ten minutes, he raised $600.

While many may say teachers are underpaid for the job they are charged with executing, the argument can be made that they are also underappreciated.  When asked about the atmosphere created by recent politicians Carter responded, “I don’t care what job you do.  Don’t judge [teaching] until you do it.  Think about race car driving – do you think just because you have a license and like to drive fast you could do it?  No way.  Go in there and try it.  Just like teaching.”

Faced with challenges of school, work, college decisions or other responsibilities, students often look to their educators for motivation and help managing the stress.

“It’s important to encourage your students and never talk down to them,” Carter said.  “I engage them in other ways, including attending their concerts and games.  I try to attend all the out of school events that I can.”

The Sparta students perform well as evidenced by recognition from New Jersey and national publications. 

“The students are our future,” Carter said.  “The world changes at such a fast past so you have to be ready and willing to accept the challenges.  There are great teachers at Sparta High School.  Everyone is in your corner.”