by Gloria Li
History department head Jonathan Bassett remembers history teacher Betsey Scharlack as his second hire.
After he advertised the position, Scharlack showed up for an interview. However, when she arrived, the history position that she had applied for was no longer available.
“I informed her of this, and asked her if she still wanted to do the interview. She said that she might as well since she was already here, so we did it,” Bassett said.
He said that at the interview, Scharlack’s presence was strong.
Soon thereafter, Bassett was surprised to discover that he could hire a part-time employee.
Within a week, he called Scharlack to inform her of the opening and to offer her the position.
Scharlack immediately accepted the part-time position, which soon evolved into a full-time one when the history department received funding to increase its staff. She held the position for eleven years.
Prior to being a high school history teacher, Scharlack was an art historian. She worked in museums and taught college courses.
After being born in Miami Beach, Scharlack’s family moved to New Jersey when she was one-year-old. In New Jersey, she attended elementary, middle and high school before entering Wellesley College.
Upon graduation from college, she earned her bachelor’s degree cum laude.
Scharlack recalled that “the people at Wellesley were very serious about learning, and that was a part of their culture that I enjoyed.”
Thereafter, she attended the University of Michigan, where she finished all the requirements for a doctorate except for the dissertation.
She also attended Babson College and Boston College where she received a Masters of Business Administration and a Masters in Education, respectively.
Based on her education experience and her career, Scharlack said she has come to realize that “there is no direct correlation between degrees and income.”
Nevertheless, there are rewards in pursuing higher education.
Scharlack said that she has “always found a great deal of satisfaction in learning and teaching.”
According to Bassett, “She carries copious knowledge about history and architecture.”
Scharlack is “well-travelled” and suits her position, he said.
In addition, she has many artifacts and stories that enrich her teaching, Bassett said.
Over the last eleven years, Scharlack has taught East Asia studies, World History I and Economics.
To teach well, Scharlack said she always tries to bring history and the ideas she presents back to students’ lives.
A comprehensive, in-depth interest in Asian history evolved approximately nine years ago, she said.
In order to teach East Asian Studies effectively, she took a number of courses at Primary Source in Watertown and went on study tours of China, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia.
She said these tours were eye-opening and fascinating, so she went on to learn more through reading, research and additional programs at Indiana and Colorado universities.
“When I was younger, I was only exposed to western and American history but never to Asian history,” she said.
In the course, students learn about four Asian countries, go on field trips and work on independent research projects.
Scharlack said, the project is her favorite part of the course because “I always learn something new myself.”
History teacher Dan Willbach praised Scharlack for creating a popular senior elective that many students take.
He attributes the class’ success to the unique opportunities she offers students, such as teaching them how to use brushes and ink to write Chinese calligraphy.
Willbach said that Scharlack is “a warm and outgoing person whom students seem to like and appreciate.”
In addition, he said that she “has boundless energy when it comes to teaching.”
He cited the numerous field trips she plans for her students as an example of the effort she puts in to help her students learn.
In East Asian Studies, she takes students to many museums in order to help them truly understand history, he said.
Looking back at her time at this school, Scharlack said she remembers her first few days here as turbulent.
“My start at North was not very auspicious,” she said because September 11, 2001 occured during her first full week of teaching.
“On the day after the twin towers fell, we had a bomb scare at the school and spent several hours outside on the crumbling steps of the old stadium,” Scharlack said.
When people asked her whether she liked her new job, she said she had to confess that she did not know yet. She did note, however, that her time here improved significantly after the first week.
“The students generally were, and continue to be, wonderful, enthusiastic, creative, conscientious and fun to have in a classroom,” she said.
As she reflects on leaving this school, Scharlack said she will miss her colleagues as well as the students that she has come to know and love.
“The people I work with are, and have always been, committed to students and teaching. They’re also fascinating in their diverse interests. And they consistently make me laugh,” she said.
Most of all, Scharlack said she will miss the energy and the challenges that this school has provided for her.