Last day of school brings fond memories for retiring William T. Dwyer High School teacher

American sign language teacher Michelle Barows helped open school back in 1991
William T. Dwyer High School principal Corey Brooks hugs retiring teacher Michelle Barows on May 26, 2023.jpg
Posted at 5:10 PM, May 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-26 17:12:13-04

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — School's out for summer!

Palm Beach, Martin, and Okeechobee counties all marked their last day of school on Friday. St Lucie and Indian River counties will finish up next week.

The last day of school at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens brought a lot of different emotions. For one teacher, it was bittersweet as she heads into retirement.


Walking into her classroom for the last time on Friday, there were only a few signs left of Michelle Barows' 30-plus years at Dwyer High School.

"It's my family and my home away from home," Barows said. "I probably spent more waking hours here than I do at my own home. My department is like my sisters. We're very close."

The weight of this last day brought Barows to tears.

"I've had what I call grandstudents," Barows said. "I've had their parents and I've had the students. And I said as soon as I get my first great-grandstudent, I'm retiring. So I think there's got to be some walking around here that I don't know about."

The American sign language teacher helped open the school back in 1991 and is one of only a few original employees still there.

"She's irreplaceable," principal Corey Brooks said.

Brooks added that quality has made Barows even more valued and loved on campus.

"She's truly a culture broker," Brooks said. "Not only does she work in the capacity of a teacher, but she's a department chair, she's a mentor to young teachers, and an adviser to me."

"We clicked from the first day I was in there," senior class president Keegan Jolly said.

Barows' teaching clearly resonated with students like Jolly, who even thanked Barows in her graduation speech on Thursday.

"We're leaving together, and we are so lucky to be leaving together because she is like my rock," Jolly said. "I love going to her class. Her class was what I looked forward to every single day that I had her."

With a decades-long, impactful career, Barows has important advice for younger teachers.

"You need to find something you like about every child in your classroom, even the ones that drive you crazy," Barows said. "You gotta find something that you like about them and make a connection that way with them. Otherwise they are going to know you don't care and they're not going to care."

And never forget that Panther pride.

"I'm going to miss Dwyer High School," Barows said. "It's my home, my second home, and my family."

Barows said one of her career highlights was winning a prestigious Dwyer Award in 2001.

The longtime educator also has fond memories of the sign language shows her students have performed, and visits to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, watching her students interact with others.

"When the kids come back and say they were actually able to communicate with somebody and they were able to use it to help someone, or at their job someone came in and they signed with someone at their job, that gives me satisfaction," Barows said. "I never called it going to work. I always said I was going to school. I just loved being a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little kid, so I fulfilled my dream."

While she worked at Dwyer for 32 years, Barows has been in the School District of Palm Beach County for 39.

Barows is moving to Georgia to live closer to family.