From Drugs and Alcohol to Teaching

How rock climbing trips helped one teacher recover


Mike Garnier’s days as an adolescent weren’t focused on school. Through weekend and night partying, drugs and alcohol, and hanging out with the wrong people, Garnier says his graduation from Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis was done by the skin of his teeth. Nowadays, Garnier can be found teaching freshman AVID and physical science in his E hall classroom. 

     Garnier’s path to quitting drugs and alcohol and becoming a teacher was largely inspired by his youth pastor. He recalls his cousin telling him during his junior year of high school that his decisions were risky and would get him killed–and that the people who loved him didn’t want to see that happen. Garnier says that, at that moment, he felt valued and wanted to seek recovery.

     “I went to my youth pastor at the time,” Garnier said. “This guy was the most straight-laced guy you’ve ever met … Probably had never even seen a cigarette in his life.”

      Garnier says that with a lack of experience in talking about recovery, his pastor proposed the idea of letting him go rock climbing with him every Saturday, but with a catch, he would leave at 4 a.m. After accepting the offer, Garnier says he started calling off partying with friends to go rock climbing instead, which helped him recover.

     “We drove all the way down to Yosemite National Park. We drove all over the place,” he said. “It just worked … That set me on the path of being able to get clean.”

     However, it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he realized the amount of effort it would take him to graduate. With the support of his teachers, he made it across the finish line.

     “We didn’t click, but [my teacher] could still see that I really wanted [to graduate],” he said. “He had my back. He supported me. And so I think now, I try to keep that in mind.”

      Garnier mentions that as a student he failed a lot of his classes, despite understanding the material, simply because he didn’t turn in his homework. These experiences taught him that an individual’s knowledge shouldn’t be compared to their grades, and that education isn’t entirely what life is about. 

     “Education is a variable in an equation,” he said. “The other main variable in that equation is what do you want to do?”

     For Garnier, as an AVID teacher, he says he enjoys the conversation of what’s next in life for students, but whether the conversations are positive or negative, he says it motivates him to come to school.

    “It’s not fun conversations all the time,” Garnier said, “[b]ut it’s rewarding and fulfilling when you can support somebody.”