In Memory of Mrs. Roby


Yesterday was my high school English teacher’s birthday, and I have been thinking all day about her. She was a legend, and I am sure that the mention of her name still puts fear into grown men and women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who went to Hewitt Trussville High School.

Today there is all kind of talk about rigor and high standards; Mrs. Roby would fit right in to this world. Her class was hard, and expectations were high. I remember the first day of my junior year when she told us we had one week to read the New Testament because most allusions are either from the Bible or Shakespeare and we would never be able to identify Biblical allusions without reading the Bible. I kept thinking “there’s no way she can test us over the whole New Testament” but she did.

Her grading style was hard where one comma splice cost you a letter grade. Did she grade too harshly? Before you are quick to answer, those of us in her class know how to use commas correctly and understand writing conventions.

When she said read a book, we all read the book out of fear of what would happen if we didn’t. And there was no Spark Notes to cover our rear if we didn’t. The thought of walking into Mrs. Roby’s class without doing our assigned reading never entered our minds. Well maybe James Gallaspy, but I digress.

I also remember that tardiness was never an option. I only remember one student being tardy to her class, and that never happened again.

These were also the days before parent-teacher conferences. The only conferences were teacher-student, and the student did what the teacher said. It was kind of a one way conference now that I think about it.

Mrs. Roby was certainly not one to be a warm, fuzzy build your self esteem teacher by giving stars and lots of praise. Instead our self esteem was built by hard work, accomplishment, and when she did give compliments to one of us, we would carry them with us for life. 

I was an average, middle-of-the-road student in school, but Mrs. Roby’s expectations for me were the same as those at the top of the class. What was different was that she gave more time and more feedback (aka the red pen) to me and was committed to my growth. She saw me as a writer long before I saw myself as a one and slowly and steadily set about instilling this belief in me.

I remember when I told Mrs. Roby that I was going to teach English. She told me that it was hard work and kids are not who they use to be. She feared for the way she saw education moving. She did not paint some pie-in-the-sky picture for me telling me to blindly follow my dreams. However, she did say if I chose to do this, do it with all of my heart.

Mrs. Roby taught us more than English. We learned how to work hard. We learned how to write (interestingly everyone I keep up with today who had her in school is a solid writer). We learned how to take pride in our education. We learned how to behave appropriately.

I found out yesterday that Mrs. Roby passed away and her funeral will be tomorrow. This has brought the Hewitt Trussville alumni back together virtually sharing our favorite memories of her and how she made us all better people even though we didn’t necessarily see it in the moment.

This is my space to share how she impacted me and continues to impact students of this generation as they sit in my class. Thank you, Mrs. Roby, and may your legacy continue to live on.

16 responses to “In Memory of Mrs. Roby

  1. My 2nd grade teacher Miss Harriette McCarter made a big difference in my life. She wrote each one of her students a typed 2 page personal letter highlighting our strengths and things we could work to improve. I read it recently and it was like she wrote it last week!! She is now almost 90 and I call her on her birthday Aug 14 every year. She is like a grandmother to me.

  2. Judy Stevens, 9th grade English teacher at Pittman Jr. High School. Thanks to her, I can still write a five-paragraph essay. The first day of class, Mrs. Stevens informed us that we would be writing many essays and that she would grade our first essay with the same criteria as she would grade our last essay for tthe year. What I actually remember her saying was, “You all will fail your first essay, but if you learn from my comments I make on your papers, you will write an “A” paper by AEA week.” For non-Alabama folks, AEA week was our Spring Break.

    As Mrs. Stevens predicted, we all earned “F” on our first essay. Being in the advanced academic class, this was a first for most of us. Now she was not heartless. She knew that parents would see marking period grades. She knew none of us had ever failed a class. Mrs. Stevens wisely structured the class grading so that the first six-weeks the essays counted very little towards the overall grade. By the final six-weeks, when we were all making grades of “A” and “B” on our essays, the essays counted a great amount of the final grade.

    Thirty-four years later, (Yes, I spelled out the number because numerals are not used in writing.) I still have all my essays from ninth grade. Why did I keep them? Well, I was and still am proud of the progress I made that year. The standard was set high, higher than we thought we could ever achieve. I remember reading those essays when I was on college. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a high school English teacher who had similar high expectations. Thankfully, Mrs. Stevens ingrained the five-paragraph essay format into my very being. I didn’t make A’s in college English, but I did pass!

    Thank you, Mrs. Stevens! I need to find those essays and read them again. I remember her comments being very entertaining.

  3. Pingback: Looking Back | debbiehughett1·

  4. While I didn’t have Mrs. Roby as my teacher, my son was her student in both 11th and 12th grades. I was principal at HTHS for Mrs. Roby’s last years of teaching before she retired. She was truly a legend, and she influenced many students to be better writers and to be better people. I was fortunate to have worked with her!

    • Thanks for sharing. I would have loved to work with her. She definitely made me a better person and a better writer and has been a role model for me.

  5. I agree with everything said about Mrs. Wilma Roby. I survived two years of College English with her. I made C’s. I made A’s in English in college. I’ll bet that none of Mrs. Roby’s former students have ever done hard time.

  6. I was one of Mrs. Roby’s students in the 1980’s. She was tough. I still remember the way her stare froze you to your very soul, but passing her class made you incredibly proud. College English was a breeze thanks to her.

    She is a true legend and I am proud to say I was one of her students. Thank you Mrs. Roby.

  7. Between Mrs Roby and Mrs Lamar (in the ’60s), I have always had a strong foundation in grammar and punctuation. We need more teachers like them. I see and hear too much of “me and him”, “John and me”, there/they’re/their, to/too, and other things that make my skin crawl. Is it poor teaching, student laziness, political correctness, Common Core, or what? Again, as I said earlier, we need more teachers like we had back then! BTW, does anyone know if they still teach diagramming as part of grammar?

  8. I had Mrs. Roby for two years, made As, and majored in English in college. I was great at diagraming sentences. Of course, students that could not write or were not motivated never had Mrs. Roby because the high school drop out rate was about 60% during the 1960s and 1970s. Research has shown the best way to teach writing is to have students write and provide feedback on their writing. Diagramming sentences does not improve writing skills. There are many great teachers today who are dedicated, committed, and have high expectations for all students. High school is more rigorous today than in the 1960s and 1970s and the drop out rate is much lower. I appreciate the teachers I had in the ’60s and value the teachers our grandchildren have today. Just as I expect my physician to know the latest medical research and techniques, I expect teachers to know the latest educational research and best practices. Education is a noble profession.

    • My research in grad school was on holistic grammar instruction or teaching grammar in writing. I am a huge proponent that we do our students an injustice when we teach grammar out of context. There are, however, on occasion, a student who is very math minded and just “gets” grammar by diagramming. Teachers should keep up with research, but sadly, many do not. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. Education is completely different today than when I was in school (class of 83). Sadly, many teachers feel beaten down by all of the administrative tasks today and have little time to actually teach. Parental support at home, or lack of it, plays a large role in today’s schools. At the school where I teach, some teachers do still teach diagramming. I am not one of them even though I will on occasion if I have a math oriented student who has a hard time understanding sentence structure. But I totally agree that we need more teachers like Mrs. Roby – hard work, no excuses. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I had Mrs Roby for 12th Grade Honors English and have to say she was my most favorite teacher. She was hard, but she made you earn every point and be proud of it. I will always remember her class and the pride (and relief) in passing. I not only tell people that I was a Hewitt-Trussville graduate, but I was more importantly a Roby Graduate.

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