Teacher retirements are always sad in the Johnson County School District, but it takes a very special teacher to bring a school board member to tears with their retirement announcement.

That’s just what happened when Buffalo High School math teacher Marcie Scarlett announced her retirement to district trustees after three decades of service in the district.

Trustee Jan Johnson, herself a longtime teacher and coach in the district, has had a front-row seat to Scarlett’s dedication, versatility and love for kids, and she knows full well that Scarlett’s departure will be a hard loss for the district.

“She’s been in this district 30 years,” Johnson said. “She’s been a coach – volleyball, basketball, track – a middle school teacher and a high school teacher. … I wish there was a way to say thank you because 30 years – that’s over half her adult life. I learned more from her than from any book, any class, anything.”

Scarlett said she never expected her career to end amidst a public health crisis, but the last few months have given her a new appreciation for all the special memories she’s made with students over the years.

“The heart-rending part of online learning is the lack of seeing students’ faces and smiles every day,” Scarlett said. “We miss them so much.”

“When I say I’ve taught here for 30 years, I just think ‘There’s no way it could have been that long,’” Scarlett said. “It has really flown by, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Teaching was an unexpected second career for Scarlett, who spent the first six years of her professional life as an accountant for an energy company. But she quickly found that the job, while financially rewarding, left her feeling a little empty.

“Kids these days get it,” Scarlett said. “They realize that they should choose their career based on their passions and not how much money they make. But, for me, it was all about getting a good-paying job when I got out of college. So I just focused on business and accounting and pretty quickly realized that it did not feed my soul.”

Scarlett began taking every opportunity she could to work with kids.

“When I was working as an accountant, I found myself volunteering to help with kids,” Scarlett said. “I was tutoring them and coaching both volleyball and track. Accounting wasn’t feeding my passion, but working with kids was.” 

Scarlett went back to school to pursue her passion for education and, after graduating, was offered a one-year job at the Johnson County School District to take over a math teaching position and a volleyball coaching job for a teacher who was on sabbatical.

What was supposed to be a one-year stay in Buffalo blossomed into a 30-year career. After her first year was up, Scarlett took a job as a middle school math teacher. After seven or eight years of that, she became a high school business and math teacher. She also spent six years as an instructional facilitator in the district – teaching teachers about math standards and assessments. For the last three years of her career, she returned to Buffalo High School as a math teacher.

“It has all been good in different ways,” Scarlett said. “I loved the enthusiasm of the younger kids at the middle school. But the conversations I’ve had with my high school students have been incredible as well.”

Scarlett has also had a prolific coaching career – coaching basketball and volleyball at the high school and serving as an assistant track coach at the middle school. Although she gave up coaching a couple of decades ago, she remains active in local high school sports by officiating volleyball games and keeping score at basketball games.

Of all the sports she’s been a part of, track has a special place in Scarlett’s heart.

“I love track because everyone can set their own personal goals,” Scarlett said. “Kids don’t have to take first, but they can still be winners if they achieve their personal goals.”

Track is also close to Scarlett’s heart for another reason – it’s where she met her fellow track coach and future husband, Mike Scarlett, who is an English teacher at Clear Creek Middle School.

“We were both coaching track, and the kids decided we should date because we were both single,” Scarlett said. “We were both chaperoning the middle school dance, and a song came on, and the kids just circled around us and wouldn’t let us go until we danced together. I think some of them still take credit for us getting married. This district did, in a way, bring us together.”

Scarlett said she still keeps in touch with many of her former students who live in town and that it has been a great pleasure to teach the sons and daughters of some of her original students.

“The kids are still so nice here,” Scarlett said. “If you say hello, they will stop what they’re doing, look at you and say hello. Through all my different jobs in the district, the kids have been the constant. They’ve kept me going.”

Scarlett’s love for her students has only been deepened in recent months as school has moved online amid the coronavirus pandemic, Scarlett said.

“The students have responded with incredible flexibility and willingness to try something new,” Scarlett said. “Their worlds have been turned inside-out with increased responsibilities at home or at their jobs. Kids are learning how to learn in a different way, and that change has been tough. I applaud their stamina and grit. They will come through this challenge as better humans because of the struggles.”

After retirement, Scarlett said that she will take some time to run, read and relax. When asked if she had any last piece of advice for her students, Scarlett came up with one that seemed particularly well-suited to a longtime math teacher.

“Start saving for retirement now,” Scarlett said. “It seems so far away, but before you know it, you’ll be looking back on your career wondering where the time has gone.”

Stephen Dow covers a variety of beats for the Buffalo Bulletin including the Johnson County Commissioners and JCSD #1. Stephen is a Billings native who joined the Bulletin in 2016.

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