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3 Birmingham Teachers, With 108 Years of Combined Service, Retire on Same Day

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From left: Glastic Quarles, Deborah Dickinson Crawford, Thomas Scarborough. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Dozens of faculty members and former students celebrated three retiring Birmingham City School teachers at Minor Elementary School in Birmingham’s Five Points West community who together had 108 years of combined service.

Deborah Dickinson Crawford, Thomas Scarborough and Glastic Quarles, all concluded their careers at Minor Elementary School.

Quarles, who spent the last 18 years of his more than 40 years with Birmingham City Schools (BCS) at Minor, taught first grade; Dickinson Crawford, a Birmingham native, taught kindergarten for 38 years; and Scarborough, who was the school’s music teacher, spent 30 years in education.

BCS Superintendent Mark Sullivan, who was present during the celebration, thanked each for their service.

“In education, we have one of those jobs that we plant seeds, and we don’t ever find out what that seed grows into until many, many, many years later, and I know that you have planted so many seeds, all of you, over the course of your career that have grown into outstanding young men and young women throughout the city of Birmingham,” Sullivan said.

Dr. Vanessa Byrd, principal of Minor, said, “we’ll always remain grateful to you for dedicating over half of your lives to serving students.”

“You have been planting seeds and sharing knowledge and leaving footprints in the hearts and the minds of so many scholars. We know you lasted this long because this is heart work. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and continue to watch those seeds grow, that you have planted,” Byrd said.

Quarles said he remembers “coming to Birmingham with $40 in my pocket and a dream.” His earliest memory of teaching comes from his time in first grade when his grandmother Lillian had prepared him to teach Sunday school.

“While the other kids were outside playing, climbing trees, chasing frogs and chasing fireflies, my grandmother had me on the back porch, on a bale of hay, going over the Sunday school lessons for the next day,” said Quarles, who grew up in Panola, a rural community in Sumter County, Alabama.

Through his years of teaching, Quarles said he’s learned that “all children want to be loved.”

“The first thing they want to know: ‘Do you care about me?’ If you show that you care about them, they will reciprocate and give it back to you,” he said.

Dickinson Crawford said she didn’t even want to be a teacher when she started at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 18. Growing up with both parents in education, she was not interested. “There was no way in the world I was going to be a teacher,” Dickinson Crawford said.

However, after discovering she hated economics, Dickinson Crawford said she spoke with someone from Spelman’s child development program and fell in love with teaching.

After almost 40 years, Dickinson Crawford said Monday was the first day she realized what it meant that she would no longer be a teacher. Compared to other professions, teaching has allowed her to directly see the growth of children, she said.

“[As a kindergarten teacher,] I’m starting with a child who’s really at their first entrance to the school. It’s going to get me because I love seeing a child learn something for the first time, that first time a child sounds out a word,” Dickinson Crawford said.

Scarborough said he too saw students’ “individual growth” as the most fulfilling part of the job, especially as his students gradually became adults.

“As long as I’ve been teaching, I’ll see some [former students] that are already young adults or adults, and I’ll see how their lives have progressed through the years [it makes you] feel like you’ve made some kind of contribution,” Scarborough said.

Scarborough, who previously earned a master of church music from New Orleans Baptist Seminary, said he didn’t know whether to be a teacher or minister but ended up doing both.

Tonya Allen, the librarian at Minor, said Scarborough, who was the school’s music teacher for the remainder of his 30-year career in education, “has touched so many lives.”

“Rev. Scarborough, not only have you taught music, but you also instilled love in the hearts of our students. Your passion for gospel and inspirational songs were contagious, igniting the fire in each young soul that crossed your path,” Allen said.

Autumn Anderson, a former student of Scarborough’s, said the music teacher made a significant impression on her and other students’ lives.

“The passion you have for what you do inspires us to work harder, dream bigger and believe in ourselves. Your energy, enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to excellence will never be forgotten. But we’re all excited for you as you embark on this new chapter in your life,” Anderson said.

In retirement, Scarborough said, he plans to travel but also intends to keep up his ministry work, as well as school bus driving.