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.