Modern-day Renaissance man Mike Guardino

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Walking into Michael Guardino’s science classroom, you can’t help but feel that it’s lived in.

Posters of educational slogans and science tips—“LUCKY I HAD MY GOGGLES ON” reads one sign—adorn the walls, along with the odd album cover and signed thank you letter from a group of students. A well-used coffeemaker sits in the corner, opposite a music player and sizable collection of CDs. Light streaming in through tall windows glints off scattered science supplies, including an especially incongruous winged plastic pig hanging by fishing line from the ceiling.

Standing above all the clutter is Guardino himself, head of the CHS science department and teacher of Honors Physics and AP Chemistry. He paces about the room, looking over the shoulders of students who have come to him for help in one of his classes, occasionally offering advice or leaning down to check a student’s answer. Even though it’s late in the day, he’s making a concerted effort to reduce the size of a stack of papers on his desk that need grading.

“It keeps you young,” Guardino says of being a teacher. “When I started teaching 32 years ago, I wasn’t that far removed from the kids I was teaching. We listened to the same music. We had the same interests.”

Music plays a big role in Guardino’s life as a teacher.

“Back then, my students and I would all buy the same CDs.” He chuckles. “Actually, this was way back before the invention of the CD. We were buying the same vinyl.”

When Guardino talks about vinyl, he’s talking about the rock ‘n’ roll he listened to growing up. Raised in San Jose, Guardino spent his high school and college years working as a photographer at rock concerts.

“The whole rock ‘n’ roll thing came about because I lived about 45 minutes from San Francisco,” Guardino says. “I was close to the venues I photographed, like Winterland and the Fillmore. I started off just going to concerts, and because I enjoyed the music, and I was a pretty good photographer, I started taking pictures.”

Soon, Guardino wasn’t just giving the photos away to friends.

“I was approached by an executive from The Record Factory, which was a big record store, and he said, ‘Hey, would you like to sell your rock photos in my stores?’” Guardino smiles. “I got to put together my interest in photography [and] my interest in music and make a ton of money doing it.”

Guardino’s history as a lover of music is well known to his teacher peers at CHS.

“He was in a movie called The Last Waltz,” notes fellow science teacher Jason Maas-Baldwin. The Last Waltz is a documentary which chronicles the 1976 farewell concert of the roots-rock group The Band. “You can see a couple frames of him in the front row with his red bandana and young-guy hair.”

Maas-Baldwin also admires the spoils of Guardino’s work as a photographer.

“He has amazing pictures,” Maas-Baldwin says. “If you can get him to let you into his vault of first-row pictures of musicians, that’s a sight to see.”

But the esteem Guardino’s work garners him goes beyond his remarkable experiences.

“Guardino was a huge value to me in my first year here,” Maas-Baldwin says. “He was my official mentor. I was an intern teacher, so I was doing teacher’s education classes and a full-time job at the same time.” Maas-Baldwin says he sought Guardino out for guidance. “Not only is he an amazing teacher and an amazing photographer, he is an amazing mentor to other teachers.”

Guardino’s get-up-and-try-it attitude extends into his own classroom as well. For many years, he taught a sub-tidal marine research class at CHS, in which he would regularly take students diving in the Carmel Bay. Directing his attention to a poster signed by many students from that class, the veteran educator speaks with pride about its curriculum.

“I would teach them how to dive and then how to conduct research on scuba,” explains Guardino, who still works each summer at Channel Islands National Park as a research diver. “I would teach my students the same things I needed to know in the summer time to do good research.”

Guardino feels lucky to spend his time educating.

“When you come to school in the morning, the mean age of the 120 people or so you deal with is 15,” Guardino says. He chuckles. “If I were in some other profession, it just wouldn’t be the same.”

-NOAH LIEBMILLER