I had Ms. Scarborough two years in a row—Advanced American Lit during my junior year in high school and Advanced Placement English during my senior year. She wore clothes from The Gap, and she said things like “A little less levity!” to us when we got a bit out of hand. She’s one of my all-time favorite teachers, though, because she always taught more than what was on the curriculum. For a school teacher, she was old school; she really challenged our young minds.
She wanted us to do well on the SATs and in life after high school, so she really jam-packed our heads with everything she could on top of our regular assignments. She handed out word lists and resulting pop quizzes every week to increase our vocabulary and our chances of doing well on the language half of the SATs. She read to us from The Little Prince to help us grow as human beings with character. She played all kinds of music for us—from the golden oldies of the ’50s to Handel’s water music—to widen our cultural awareness. She regularly gave us lessons in art history to further widen that cultural awareness. She told us about existentialism, transcendentalism, and various other philosophical ideas, and she encouraged us to do more, be more, want more, and reach for more.
Mostly, I loved the challenge of her classes. Every week, we had to write an essay in class. She’d give us a topic at the beginning of the period, based on two reading assignments from earlier in the week, and by the end of the period we’d turn in a well-thought out comparative essay. I don’t know why, but that was one of my favorite types of assignment—the timed writing of an MLA format essay comparing two pieces of literature. What a bookish little nerd I was.
I also liked the creative writing assignments, and I found that if she liked what you turned in, the piece would find itself in the high school literary magazine.
My pieces turned up in the magazine.
Her full name wasn’t too common, but she shared it with a fairly well known published author, and she’d rant that while it was her real name—first, middle, and last—it was the author’s pen name. The author’s choice of name was a mere coincidence, but it irked her just the same. She also ranted that all romance novels, particularly the Harlequin novels, were the same, formulaic, and she insisted that every one of us in class could easily write one.
But what I really loved about Ms. Scarborough’s class was that every year after Thanksgiving, she’d begin a project in which every one of her students would participate. Through some charity organization, she’d adopt a family that was completely down on their luck, and she’d get everyone involved—family, friends, fellow staff, and her students. Furniture, clothes, food, and toys would be collected, and a place to live found, all for the family, all so they could have a proper Christmas. We’d find out about the people, their sizes, their needs, their likes and dislikes, and the kids’ wish lists.
So the father might get a new set of clothes so he can go out and find work, and he might get a set of tools. The mother might get a new dress and shoes, along with a great kitchen set. The kids would get clothes, toys, school supplies. And the entire family would get all the fixin’s for a Christmas dinner—a turkey, a can of cranberry sauce, yams, and the like. They’d also get a Christmas tree and ornaments, lights, and the gifts as well. If they don’t have plates, they’ll get plates. If they don’t have utensils, they get utensils. Whatever they need and lack, they get. Donated or paid for by everyone who participated.
In the two years I had Ms. Scarborough, she did this twice. I imagine she did it every year before I had her class and every year after. She enjoyed it so much that I can’t picture her ever not doing it.
So she was more than your average English teacher. She was Ms. Scarborough, and any student of hers would know exactly what that means.
She taught more than English. She taught life.Share this post: